To remedy its poor doctor numbers, India has to free up medical education
Indian healthcare, for long, has been ailing from acute shortage of medical specialists such as paediatricians, gynaecologists and surgeons. With 0.7 doctors per 1,000 population, India stands far behind global leader, Cuba, which has 6.7 doctors. The problem, though worse in rural areas, remains a concern in urban centres, too, as a report by The Indian Express pointed out on Monday. Rural community health centres suffer from a whopping 82% shortfall of specialists, as per National Health Mission (NHM) data. What’s worse is that the strength at these centres has actually fallen from 5,805 in 2013 to 4,091 in 2014. Given there are just 2 lakh surgeons, 50,000 paediatricians and 70,000 obstetricians/gynaecologists for the country’s 121 crore population—with the international norm for paediatrician strength being 1 in 10,000, India should have had at least 1.21 lakh of them—urban areas aren’t doing any better.
Even as the uptake of candidates, as industry associations highlight, for medical education is thin, the stringent norms for setting up of medical colleges perpetuate the shortage. Therefore, for a government with an ambitious universal healthcare programme—the $26 billion National Health Assurance Mission that will provide citizens free drugs and diagnostics apart from insurance cover for serious ailments—some focus has to be on creating the specialists who would prescribe the drugs and order courses of treatment. For a start, it could consider easing the setting up of medical colleges.