Treating the PM: A Public Health Initiative
It’s been four days since Manmohan Singh underwent coronary bypass surgery. The prime minister is said to be making “rapid progress” and is well on his way to recovery.
But this time, he chose to be admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi rather than go abroad or enter a private facility.
Is it a vote of confidence in India’s public health infrastructure and the stature the country’s doctors have acquired over the past two decades?
“I chose the All India Institute of Medical Sciences because I have confidence in your ability and to encourage the general public to come here for treatment,” the Hindu newspaper quoted Singh as telling his medical team after the surgery.
“I hope every patient receives the same care as you have given me.”
Prior to the surgery, health minister Anbumani Ramadoss was quoted as saying: “Our doctors are competent and we don’t need experts from outside.”
Over a period of time, India has become a destination for medical tourism but as far as public health infrastructure goes, conditions can be quite patchy.
In India, a country with the world’s third highest HIV caseload, patients may spend days queuing up for tests and drugs at New Delhi hospitals as there simply are not enough doctors and nurses to attend to them all.
In fact, newspaper reports said Ramakanta Panda, who led the team of doctors for Singh’s surgery, brought some 20 boxes of special equipment with him from Mumbai.
And a ten-member medical team as well.
Unfortunately, doctors and nurses in India are usually poached either by private medical centres that cater to India’s expanding middle class or by hospitals abroad.
The general public hardly needs encouragement to go to a government hospital. Often it’s the only kind of social security available to the urban poor. In the absence of affordable medical care, they have no choice but to throng these hospitals.
During peak hours, hospitals like the AIIMS can be as crowded as a railway platform.
“Widening disparities are prevalent in health outcomes between income groups and between social and caste groups,” the UNICEF said in its ‘State of World Children – 2009′ report.
Is the common man likely to share the prime minister’s confidence in our health facilities?