Health Care in Our Country
One recent morning while I was gloating about our country’s claim to be seated among the developed powerful nations of the world, my car stopped at a traffic signal and a dirty starving man begged me for some money to eat a meal. While parting with a tenner, I asked him what made him beg. He said he had been a small farmer in UP, but had lost his land, home, money and living, trying to provide treatment to his son who had been stricken with cancer for two years.
Treatments have improved and many diseases are now curable, but they have come at huge costs that continue to spiral. And when a loved one falls prey to disease, emotions compel us to go to the last post to save his or her life.
Administrators view healthcare sector as a graveyard for government investments. A government hospital does not fetch money on a regular basis, unlike manufacturing industries, housing, liquor or tobacco businesses. And the political benefits of cutting red ribbons of hospitals before elections do not match the grandeur of inaugurating “large buck” projects.
Our planners and politicians, who are handicapped with visions limited to 5 years, have therefore found it prudent to pass the onus of caring for the sick and ailing, to private players. And industrialists, property dealers, liquor barons, brick kiln owners and their likes have responded by building hospitals, with profit in their eyes and philanthropy on their lips!
Business gurus argue that Health Care is after all an industry (why get emotional about it?) growing at 13% pa, and a safe bet to invest in. To meet the demands of this industry, a new breed of “health care professionals”, have come up. If you ask one such honcho what he did before joining a corporate hospital, don’t choke, if he tells you that he sold automobiles or insurance!
The norms that they have brought with them are those of any other industry: impressive-looking infrastructure, elegant ambience, modern equipment, predictable service with smiles, reputed doctors and of course, good publicity. And they wait eagerly for returns that their investments would bring, called “ROI”.
This breed has created new jargon. Their efforts start with increasing “foot falls” (people visiting the facility), that hopefully lead to increased “conversions” (people undergoing procedures or admissions that really bring in the mullah), and a positive P and L bottom line.
Private hospitals cater to 70% of the country’s health needs and have sometimes done well, wringing in technology and advances ahead of government hospitals (liver transplant and robotic surgery being two examples).
But they come at a price, and occupy the space that our planners have created for them.
The next morning, I looked around for the destitute at the traffic lights, clutching a Rs 100 note in my hands, to make small amends for having joined the healthcare industry, that had robbed him of all he ever had and made him a beggar!