Health Care in India: A fundamental right or a commodity?

Just this week, we celebrated the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., an ambitious man who spoke against injustice and discrimination at a time where justice seemed improbable. As I sat down to write this article, I thought to myself, what could be the most important form of injustice that still prevails in our country. After surfing the internet for a few minutes, I came across something MLK Jr. said, “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman”.

So I decided to write about a topic which has been close to my heart ever since I was a little child. I grew up in hospital campuses in rural towns in India, and much of our dinner table conversations consisted of medical jargon. The hospital my dad worked in was a 100 bedded hospital, about 90 kilometers from Varanasi. Since it was one of the closest hospitals to the surrounding villages, it attracted a lot of patients who belonged to economically backward communities.

From what I have observed over the years in my knowledge of health care in India is that there is a huge misconception of private hospitals being better than government or small scale rural hospitals. While it might be true that private hospitals are better equipped with fancier machines and exclusive personal services, there are hospitals which provide as good medical treatment without high-end machines and cheaper drugs for the exact same cure.

health india

Many in our country are still alien to proper healthcare, and even when basic health care is provided, it’s highly expensive. I’ve heard stories of patients from economically lower background selling their properties just to travel to cities to get basic medical treatment, only to reach there and get treated to the same diagnoses and method of treatment which was previously prescribed, just way costlier.

A countless number of patients also get duped into paying for unnecessary surgeries and get prescribed highly expensive drugs just for the pharmaceutical companies to profit, out of which several of them are poor patients who are so vulnerable that they are willing to go bankrupt just to get treatment, or on the other hand, completely avoid treatment they cannot afford.

A glaring issue in our country is the unfair distribution of health care. Distributive health care is blatantly absent. Statistics reveal that 70% of India’s population live in rural India and only 20% of doctors reside in rural areas, which means that 20% of doctors cater to the 70% of the population, while 80% cater to 30% of the remaining population in urban areas. This skewed ratio between doctors and the number of patients is only the tip of the iceberg.

Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides ‘Right to Health Care’ as a fundamental right to each citizen. In State of Punjab v. Mohinder Singh Chawla (1997) 2 SCC 83, it was held that the right to health care is integral to the right to life and the government has a constitutional obligation to provide health care facilities. However, today, Health care is treated as a commodity, rather than a fundamental right.

India is divided into different economic classes based on income. The rich have been getting richer, while the poor haven’t been able to prosper and they remain poor. This gap between the rich and poor has also affected the health care system in India.

With proper regularizations on pricing, checks and balances on unethical transactions, and an initiative to make people aware of easily accessible hospitals and clinics around them, we can better the current scenario in the long run. We need a model that envisages the primary health center as a social enterprise for wellbeing of citizens as the way forward. With appropriate implementations of laws and viewing healthcare as not just a mere marketing enterprise, we can make a colossal change, and maybe the generations to come can reap the benefits of the amends we start to make now.

By Namrata Mohapatra

Namrata Mohapatra is an aspiring lawyer, almost ready to graduate law school in two months

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