The deaths of over 30 children owing to gross medical negligence and apathy at a government hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, is shocking, but not surprising. We’ve seen it before: Some 35 babies died in five days in Kolkata’s B C Roy Hospital in September 2013; In August 2015, 61 children died in a span of 13 days at a government childcare facility in Odisha.
In Ajmer, 16 newborns died in two weeks in May 2016, again in a government hospital. And we are only talking about children here, and not the numerous poor villagers who die every day due to pathetic or non-existent healthcare facilities in their neighbourhood. Critically-ill villagers often have to trudge for miles to access basic facilities.
What is surprising is that despite the absolutely abysmal state of healthcare in the country, our leaders, both at the states and the Centre, remain unwilling to commit resources or money to stem the rot. Despite India’s growth story, healthcare services—particularly for the poor and those in rural areas—has actually seen a decline in real terms. The country’s infant mortality, under-five mortality and maternal mortality rates are still comparable with sub-Saharan Africa.
At 1.2 per cent of the GDP, India’s allocation for healthcare is among the lowest in the world. The World Bank estimates that the per capita healthcare expenditure in India has been stagnating at around $60 for the past decade. Compare that with Brazil ($1000) or China ($300). The 23 per cent increase in allocation for healthcare in the Union Budget 2016-17 rings hollow given that the finance minister had actually cut 13 per cent of the budget allocation for 2015-16.
While necessary, just throwing money at the problem, however, will not make it go away. It’s not just the shortage of doctors, hospitals and basic facilities and equipment in rural areas. One needs to look at rural health insurance, as well as preventive medicine. And of course, ensure accountability. Until that happens, our children will continue to die needlessly, each and every day.