Rural south Indians opt for traditional treatments, in-state medical facilities due to better infra: Survey

A recent pan-India surey found that they “equally prefer public primary-level facilities and public secondary-level facilities, with private hospitals being a distant third for serious ailments.”
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo)
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo)

NEW DELHI: Better health facilities in south India ensure that people living in rural areas don’t travel to other states for the treatment of serious ailments but they do rely on home-based, traditional methods of treatment, as compared to other regions, a survey released on Tuesday found.

The pan-India survey said that those who were surveyed in rural areas across Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu “equally prefer public primary-level facilities and public secondary-level facilities, with private hospitals being a distant third for serious ailments.”

“It would seem that the quality of care and reach of public sector primary healthcare facilities is relatively better in the southern states as compared to the rest of the country,” said the study, conducted by the Development Intelligence Unit, a collaborative venture between Transform Rural India Foundation and Sambodhi Research and Communications Private Limited, a monitoring, evolution, and research organization. The survey covered 6,478 people in 20 states.

In rural India, 54.5% of those in the high-income group prefer to visit private hospitals as compared to 37% of people from the low-income group, the survey found.

The study, however, said that people living in the northeast have the highest preference for migration (84 %) - travelling to another state - in search of better medical treatment, including surgeries.

This is closely followed by eastern India with 66%, and central India with 61% expressing similar intentions, the study titled ‘State of healthcare in rural India 2023, said. 

On the contrary, more than two-thirds of the respondents from the south felt no need to migrate out for treatment, it found.

Among those with chronically ill household members in rural areas, the driving factor for going out of the state for treatment was the destination having better treatment facilities.

Shyamal Santra, Associate Director of Public Health and Nutrition at Transform Rural India, said, that it was evident that there needs to be a specific focus on under-developed regions to improve patient satisfaction and reduce the need for long-distance travel for treatment.

“The compulsion of travel in the quest for quality medical treatment adds emotional and financial stress to the patients and their families,” Santra added.

The survey, which studied 75% of men and 25% of women in rural India under four categories, including those who were illiterate (15%) and those who have completed higher secondary and above (32%), found that 28 per cent of those who were surveyed said they “mostly or even completely were dependent on home-based traditional medicine.”

The survey found that in rural India, under one in 10 respondents who were illiterate or had primary education reported having a full dependency on home-based traditional medicine. 

On the other hand, this dependency was less than 2% among those who had completed higher secondary education or above.

From the survey, it is evident that there is a significant inclination towards traditional medicines and methodologies among the populations from the south. However, across all the other zones surveyed, although there is usage of traditional forms of medicine, it is, albeit, more selective, the study said. Its growing popularity could be attributed to the AYUSH ministry and naturopathy interventions, including ayurvedic medicine, it added.

54% of rural folk surveyed said they preferred home-based traditional medicine as it has been tried and tested for generations. 48% found it more convenient and cheaper. 46% of those surveyed said that they had complete faith in the healer.

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