A man in Uttar Pradesh is accused of having infected tens of people with HIV by reusing syringes. Meanwhile, in Telangana, a young woman was brought to a hospital with her gangrenous small intestines spilling out of her vagina after a botched abortion performed by a Rural Medical Practitioner. Both incidents are merely indicative of a largely forgotten health crisis facing rural Indians everyday.
This crisis is touched upon in the controversial National Medical Council Bill that has been staunchly opposed by doctors. The provision under fire proposes a bridge course for AYUSH practitioners which can allow them to practice allopathic medicine as well. While the opposition of doctors to this provision may indeed hold water, the problem that doctors and the government need to confront is the acute shortage of qualified medical personnel working in rural India.
A WHO guideline recommends one doctor for every 1,000 patients but in India the ratio is one doctor for every 11,000 patients. The ratio worsens for rural areas, forcing the most vulnerable of citizens to turn to quacks. There have long been proposals—implemented in certain states—that have allowed for graduates of shorter courses (in comparison to a full MBBS degree) to be trained and deployed in villages. Such programmes have reportedly gained success in other developing countries. If implemented and regulated well, programmes of those nature may help bridge some gaps in healthcare.
But the fact remains that doctors are required and vast sections of society are underserved. While doctors have chafed at rural bonds that force graduates to work in villages, they ought to invest some time and energy in proposing feasible solutions. The government also needs to increase its investments in health infrastructure in rural areas so that doctors who end up there have access to the resources that will ensure they can treat their patients as required. They also need the support, security and incentives to make rural service an opportunity rather than a sacrifice.