Dr. Ankit Gupta
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light an open secret: the majority of individuals living in remote areas face two challenges in terms of healthcare: access to high-quality care and affordability. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly showed how rural and semi-urban population was not able to access the best healthcare due to a lack of up to date medical infrastructure. During the first and second waves of the coronavirus, the population living in smaller towns and semi-urban areas had to pay a higher price for healthcare in big cities. This obviously indicates the necessity to address the poor situation of rural healthcare as soon as possible.
The key issue is that primary and secondary healthcare in rural regions is still not up to grade. Currently healthcare in rural and remote areas is provided by a small number of government and private nursing homes that have been unable to keep up with the rising demand, or by a handful of quacks who practice medicine in rural areas. In most distant regions, tertiary level healthcare is not available. Even those who travel to large cities for treatment cannot afford it.
Another issue that rural India faces is a lack of understanding about the majority of ailments. Most of the time, patients in villages arrive at the hospital when their condition has progressed to advanced stages. Even when they see evident indicators of disease, they generally ignore them. This makes treatment difficult for doctors and increases mortality rates. Despite the fact that the number of institutions has increased over time, personnel availability remains well below the WHO’s recommended levels. In rural India, there are 3.2 government hospital beds per 10,000 people. Many states have a substantially lower number of rural beds than the national average.
The government has shifted its focus to rural healthcare, with a range of programmes aimed at making it more accessible and inexpensive. The National Rural Health Mission assist states and Union Territories in strengthening their healthcare systems to ensure universal access to equitable, affordable, and high-quality healthcare services. In addition, the Ayushman Bharat Programme, which was established in 2018, is the primary vehicle for achieving Universal Health Coverage by providing comprehensive and integrated health care.
All of these programmes, however, are still not sufficient to increase access to healthcare for a major portion of the rural population. To close the gap, private healthcare providers should be encouraged to deliver super-specialty services in Tier II, III, and remote areas. More public-private partnerships should be formed to promote health programmes and raise awareness about them. As more private hospitals will come in semi-urban areas, affordability and accessibility of the best healthcare services will improve. Furthermore, even if private sector hospitals are not present in small cities or rural areas, they should conduct CSR health initiatives to assist individuals who cannot afford to travel to big cities. Every month, more free diagnostic and awareness camps should be held in villages to help people understand the causes, symptoms, and treatments available for various life-threatening diseases like cancer and hypertension
In addition, technology should be used to reach out to these areas. In terms of healthcare, telemedicine has the potential to bridge the gap between urban and rural areas. Tele-consultations should be expanded so that more people may consult with experts directly about their symptoms and the treatments they require.
Improving healthcare quality at the system level necessitates focusing on governance concerns, such as better public-sector management, institutional capacity building, and encouraging a culture of data-driven policies. It is vital for governments, implementing agencies, and researchers in India to collaborate on evidence-based ways to improve health care quality and results. The NGOs should collaborate closely with both the private and public sectors to bridge the gap between the two and act as a facilitator in offering the best healthcare services to rural and remote locations. Only through the combined efforts of the public and private sectors will rural India be able to become self-sufficient in the best healthcare services.
(The author is a Managing Director, The Park and Signature Group of Hospitals. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)