Are we that bad? And ruminations on an Indian model of health

Is access to healthcare a fundamental right? 

The Indian constitution does not think so, we have freedom of speech and education that are fundamental rights, but not health. 

With a GDP spend of 1% on Healthcare the Public Health System has remained a much neglected part of Indian society. The surprising part is that despite such abysmally low spends we have seen a population explosion that has led to us becoming a labour rich, low cost economy. The credit for todays economic boom goes to IT and ITES regularly, what stays unsaid is how the cheapest healthcare system in the world has given us an abundant healthy population.

This has always made me ask why were we always so apologetic about our population growth in the 70s and 80s. Every school text book talked about how India’s population is adding to the burden on land! According to Mr. Swaraj Paul at a FICCI conference (1 Oct 2007), this was a myth perpetrated by the Western world. That aside the reality is that despite its successes the healthcare system is in serious need for reform and needs continued focus. 

The challenge according to Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia seems to be “What should be the focus of the increased spends on Healthcare and what should be the Indian model of providing universal healthcare” (Indo Us Economic summit 18 Sept 2007)? Lets look at what the much talked about systems in the western world and judge their applicability for us:

  • US Model – currently seems to be in a state of ongoing criticism in America. High insurance premiums have led to 82 million uninsured. Incresed cost of care and treatment is prohibitive to most.
  • British NHS – continues to be touted as one of the best models of universal healthcare but is under increasing financial stress.
  • French Model – a comprehensive model that puts the onus of health on the government as well as employers. Currently the only model that seems to function effortlessly. Which one is right for us? or do we need to build something ground up?