A lot has been written, and rightly, over the shortage of doctors in India, around 80 or so per lakh population versus 130 in even China.
A lot has been written, and rightly, over the shortage of doctors in India, around 80 or so per lakh population versus 130 in even China. As a result, while India boasts of some of the world’s top medical facilities and is even trying to make a mark in the field of medical tourism, the vast majority of the population has to make do with very few doctors. A new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) makes even this poor statistic look worse, given it points out that of the allopathic doctors in the country (as per 2001 census), more than half (57%) did not have a medical degree—indeed, of the so-called doctors, around a third had studied only till secondary school. So, if one discounts for quacks—doctors who lack a valid medical degree—the number of doctors per lakh falls to 36, a number that is lower than that in some Latin American countries. The number of qualified healthcare workers, using the same matrix, falls from 61 to 6.
The report also points to a rural-urban divide with allopathic doctors in rural areas being less educated (18.8%) than their urban counterparts (58.4%). Moreover, a comparison of the top and bottom 30 districts in the country shows that top 30 districts had 159 doctors per lakh population while the bottom-most districts had only 9.4. Though it is not clear if the problem of fake doctors is more prevalent in the public or private sector, a study published by World Bank on Madhya Pradesh showed that people preferred private clinics—possibly because they felt the doctors there would be more qualified.
With out-of-pocket health expenditure being one of the major components of spending in the country, the WHO report should come as a wake-up call for the government. A crackdown on quacks is obviously called for, but it would probably make more sense to spend more time on training healthcare professionals in rural areas—more so at a time when telemedicine allows village centres to be linked to hospitals in urban areas. Also, since AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Homoeopathy) doctors tend to be better qualified than allopathic ones—according to WHO, 53% of AYUSH doctors had degrees in their respective fields as compared to 43% for allopathic ones– the government would be better off if it were to expand its AYUSH programme.