CHENNAI: Better government hospitals with doctors willing to work in them are the need of the hour, felt panellists, who discussed whether India was investing enough on healthcare? They agreed that the State investment was low, resulting in lacklustre infrastructure.
Chairing the session, Dr S Gurushankar, chairman of Madurai Meenakshi Mission Hospital, said that public sector was not capable of handling the country’s increasing healthcare demands. He gave an example to drive the point home. “The late chief minister J Jayalalithaa was admitted to a private hospital. Around the same time, Karunanidhi was also admitted to a private hospital in Chennai. During their tenure, they exercised control over government hospitals, and by extension, their quality. However, when the situation arose, they chose private hospitals. Such is the condition of our government hospitals,” he said.
Drawing a parallel between the two stark realities in the nation, he said that at one end of the spectrum were people capable of affording treatment worth Rs 5.5 crore, while at the other end were those incapable of spending even Rs 500 for treatment. “Though there is no doubt that the life of a leader of Jayalalithaa’s stature was important, we should remember that the life of a common man is as important. That is the way civilised societies are. The disparity between the healthcare service in urban and rural areas is a grave issue. People in villages do not have access to proper healthcare. We have challenges finding nurses and doctors,” he said. He also pointed out that by 2020, India will face a shortage of five million beds.
Dr Georgi Abraham, noted nephrologist from Madras Medical Mission, too had the same opinion. “We do not have enough doctors in India. The government isn’t spending enough on health,” he said. He referred to a Primary Health Centre near his house, where nothing had changed in the past 55 years.
Dr Sunil Thomas Chandy, the first speaker, gave a clearer picture of the current healthcare scenario. According to him, one of the issues facing the sector was a shortage of doctors. Another was treating healthcare sector as a business.
“Healthcare is growing as a business. It is a 1.3 trillion dollar industry. Everyone wants their finger in that pie,” he said. “Healthcare is evolving into a service, which only the rich can afford. We have five-star hospitals offering the best treatment for the rich but what about the cashless and the cardless?” he asked.
Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, PMK leader and MP, explained that the answer to this epidemic lay in prevention first, “Healthcare is not about investing more in hospitals. It is about preventing people from going to hospitals,” he said. “The government should invest in nutrition, clean water and sanitation,” he added. He also explained the need to invest more money in the system and to increase the availability of generic medicines.