India spends only 0.9% of GDP on public health, merely one-third of the less developed countries’ average, says a WHO report. This has encouraged private health care, which is largely inaccessible to most of the public.
Ram Manohar, a poor farmer, has walked some 10 kilometers to reach the nearest public health care center in his village in the east Indian state of Orissa. The drugs necessary to cure his ailment are out of stock, so he receives a simple painkiller and a drip of glucose instead. In another case, Aditya, a corporate executive, gets admitted into a state-of-the-art private hospital for a stomach upset. He gets the best treatment, paid for by his medical insurance.
The two cases show a gaping disparity in India's health services, considered to be one of the most privatized in the world, according to a report by India's Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA).
The rich pay while the poor suffer
The CBGA's report says that rural health centers, which form the backbone of the Indian public health system, have almost collapsed. They lack the basic infrastructure, staff and essential medicines. Instead of strengthening them, the government is subsidizing private companies who plan to establish so-called "super-speciality" hospitals to attract tourists from abroad. Poorer patients do not visit these centers, fearing they will not get good treatment and are forced to go to private hospitals for better medical care.
“To meet the expenses they have to sell their house, or piece of land. Spending on health care is fast becoming a common cause of debt in India. It has, in a way, favored the monopoly of private hospitals,” says Dr Puneet Bedi , an obstetrics and gynecology consultant at the Apollo Hospital in New Delhi.