PERHAPS the biggest story of the first decade of the new millennium has been the resurgence of India as an economic heavyweight, capable on its own of influencing global economic trends. At an average growth rate of 7 per cent—8 per cent achieved over the last 10 years, coupled with our unique advantages in terms of a large population and resource-rich land, such a conclusion is justified to a large extent.
However, the rise of India as an economic power must be tempered with an assessment of India’s achievements in social development as well. And here, the India story begins to unravel.
An HDI (Human Development Index) rank of 126 (out of 177 countries) indicates that India has not managed to mirror its success in the economic front in human development. Much of our population continues to suffer from poor health services, having limited access to safe drinking water and hygienic sanitary systems; our children, especially those in rural areas, continue to be held hostage to numerous institutional and societal shortcomings that restrict their right to education; and our newfound hunger for fossil fuels has led to burgeoning imports of oil, gas and coal, posing a huge drain on public resources; not to mention the strain such energy sources are putting on our already stressed environment.
In this article the writer tries to make a rapid assessment of these and other persistent issues across four core sectors – health, water and sanitation, education, and energy – in a bid to provide a bird’s eye perspective on the social and developmental challenges facing India.
At Vijnana Bharati, we believe that the strength and image of this country are dependent on India doing well on these four sectors. Our performance on these sectors has a direct impact on the poor people of the country. With science and technology as its base, Vijnana Bharati relentlessly works towards the goal of self-reliance and organises a number of programmes and activities across the country. As part of awareness generation drive, we humbly present this document to the social workers, political leadership, and policy makers of this country. The data presented in this document are culled out from various primary and secondary sources and are only indicative of the current scenario in general. None the less, they give a sense of direction as to what we need to do collectively to make a difference to lives of the poor people in this country.
Health care in India:
A disappointing scenario
Perhaps the most glaring instance of India’s laggardly human development performance can be found in its under-funded, over-burdened, poorly-equipped and short-staffed public health sector. According to the World Health Organisation, India ranks a dismal 171 out of 175 countries in terms of spending on public health. This ranking is not hard to believe considering the crumbling state of health care infrastructure in the country, particularly in rural India.
According to credible estimates, India has approximately 860 hospital beds per 1 million people, which is significantly lower than the world average of 3,960 beds per million people. This low figure sinks to abysmal levels in rural India, where there are less than 200 beds per million people.
The lack of doctors and trained health practitioners is also glaring in India. There are only 59 doctors per 100,000 people in India, compared to nearly 200 per 100,000 in developed countries, and a vast majority of these are in urban India, leaving two-thirds of the population residing in our villages bereft of modern health care. This imbalance between doctors and patients could ideally have been rectified by Ayurveda, Unani and other streams of traditional healing, but with only 40,000 government doctors specialising in AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy), that continues to be an elusive solution.
The infrastructural woes of the health sector are particularly frustrating considering India is one of the top 10 countries for communicable diseases. Our country has the world’s third largest population of HIV/AIDS patients, and more than 300,000 people die of TB every year. Three out of four children who died of measles around the world in 2008 were Indian. An estimated 141,000 Indian women die during childbirth, and 56 per cent of Indian girls are anaemic.
Such sobering statistics reveal that the health sector is in urgent need of attention, and needs significant infusion of capital, personnel, and innovative policy-making to make the fundamental right to health of every Indian a reality.
(To be continued)
(The writer is national organising secretary of Vijnana Bharati)