The recent decision of the government to allow its senior officials to avail of medical treatment outside the country and reimburse the same shows how far the powers that be have moved from the powerless citizenry. Every individual has the right to avail of the best possible medical care even abroad. But to do so at taxpayer’s expense is taking the cake. Much of the commentary on this in the media has been focused on the outgo of precious foreign exchange in a sliding economy and also the negative impact it will have on medical tourism. This seems to imply that if the economy was doing fine, we could be gung-ho about the decision.
All the high principles of equality mentioned in the Constitution have been replaced by the new commandment from Animal Farm — “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” George Orwell could not have imagined that his novel would continue to resonate well into the 21st century. That he was born in an obscure town in India makes the irony more poignant.
Some time back these very mandarins were trying to unleash half-baked doctors into the countryside under the guise of “rural doctors”, ostensibly to improve rural health care. A classic case of what is good for the goose not being good for the gander. Only with much protest has the proposal been left on the backburner.
Or maybe it is with foresight that the decision has been made, considering the mess medical education is in. At the undergraduate level, the Medical Council of India has gone on increasing intake in the colleges, without bothering if any infrastructure are available.
What it does to practical training at the individual level has not been thought out. As for undergraduate education in private colleges dotting the countryside, the less said the better. Postgraduate seats are available for obscene amounts. India is probably the only country where you can pay and get a seat. Those deserving and meritorious candidates but without the means are left by the wayside. Attempts at reforming the system of entrance examination to postgraduate seats have fallen flat.
It is cheaper to study MBBS in China or the former Soviet Union states than in many private medical colleges in India. Fees in government colleges rise every year. It is almost becoming impossible for middle and lower middle class Indians to think of a career in medicine. Considerations other than merit will lead to a slow decay of the system, especially of public health care. When somebody has spent crores on a postgraduate seat, service is the least of priorities. It’s an investment that needs to be recouped at the earliest.
But there are some things money cannot buy. Death will be the great leveller. The poor may not know the bard, but he put it for all when he wrote, “Golden lads and girls all must/ As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.”