Health for all

Updated: Nov 22 2005, 05:30am hrs
If India is to address the present and future health care needs of its billion plus population, it cannot afford to be complacent any more. It is not surprising, therefore, that the CII-Indian Healthcare Federation (IHCF) has chosen the theme Universal Healthcare: India Challenges for its forthcoming India Health summit. Finding the resources to make health facilities available to all will, of course, remain a primary challenge for the government. According to a report prepared by McKinsey, India will need Rs 1 lakh crore to meet the healthcare needs of its population by 2012. Expectedly, there will be a shortfall of no less than Rs 60,000 crore.

India needs to infuse more resources into the sector. Else, the goal of healthcare for all will remain what it has been so fara goal on paper. Something that has even been acknowledged in the National Health Policy, 2002, which notes that the 1983 health policy had promised Health for All by 2000. The 2002 policy has also drawn attention to the low investment levels in public healththe aggregate expenditure on the health sector has been just 5.2% of the GDP. Moreover, the central budgetary allocation to this vital sector has remained static at 1.3%, and in per capita terms the annual public health expenditure is a measly Rs 200.

This needs to change. Else, but for those who can afford the exorbitantly costly private healthcare, the rest will either not have access to health care or have to deal with a public health infrastructure that remains woefully inadequate. Overcrowded government hospitals, shortage of doctors and paramedical staffMcKinsey estimates that there is a shortage of 38% in healthcare staffand lack of medical equipment are just some of the ills that plague the public health system. What also needs to be addressedand this will be in focus during the health summit, too are the needs of rural areas. Health indices here have lagged those in urban areas, owing to their greater neglect. While the government certainly needs to increase health spending, corporates also need to chip in if health for all is to be achieved.