Is the right to life only for the elite?

Last Updated 23 June 2014, 16:46 IST

Recently, the case of an impoverished seven-year old child suffering from a chronic genetic disorder caught media attention. Mohammed Ahmed, son of a rickshaw-puller in the city, was battling Gaucher’s type-I, a rare hereditary problem which requires therapy worth Rs 4.8 lakh every month.

 The State did provide him grant for one month, but as it discontinued it, Ahmed’s father went to Delhi High Court wi­th help from an NGO. Fortunately he won the case and Ahmed is now looking forward to a long life with free treatment at AIIMS.

But for every patient like Ahmed who is able to avail the Government’s ‘largesse,’ there are several others who remain unaware of public he­alth schemes or continue to make rounds of hospitals wi­th no doctors or NGOs coming to their aid.

 The same can be witnessed at city hospitals like AIIMS, Safdarjung and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia where no less 15,000 new patients arrive every day. They come from places as far away as Bengal, Odisha and And­hra, make the lawns of these hospitals their home and keep trying to get through the OPD till either treatment or death seals their fate.

It is not as if there are no provisions on paper to help the economically weak. The Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi (RA­N) scheme under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has an exhaustive list of life-threatening diseases for which the poor must be provided free treatment at Government hospitals. But the conditions ‘on the gro­und’ tell a different tale.

Ashok Agarwal of NGO Social Jurist, which helps such persons, elaborates, “First comes the problem of RAN providing for free treatment only when a patient avails of it in his own state.

So 30-35 per cent of patients who co­me to AIIMS from outside Delhi are not entitled to any monetary assistance when it’s obvious that they come so far only because that treatment is not available in their state. Second is the problem of overburdened hospitals whereby patients stand in OPD queues for months and yet don’t see a doctor.”

Then there are instances where, even if a poor patient does get through, facilities for tests or medicines are conspicuously missing. “Some time back, Bara Hindu Rao hospital ran out of X-ray fil­ms and it remained unavailable for months.

 Ironically, at least 20 private shops outside that very hospital were doing X-rays for good money,” informs Agarwal. “Finally, even if you do qualify for RAN, the money, amounting to few thousands or lakhs, often falls short,” he adds.

Dr CM Gulati, a former consultant with the WHO, and editor of a respected jou­rnal Monthly Index of Medi­cal Specialities, rema­rks, “Th­e­se are all schemes ann­­­ounc-ed by politicians to stay in ne­­ws and garner votes. Nobo­dy cares if the required infrast­r­u­­­cture is present or not.

For the past 10 years, our national expenditure on health has st­a­­yed put at only one per cent of the national income when successive Governments kept saying they’ll raise it.”

“On the other hand,” he po­i­nts out, “Look at health sch­emes in countries like Bri­t­ain, and the Europe Uni­­on, where citizens pay a palt­ry amount for healthcare and the Government bears the bu­­­­lk of the burden. But of co­urse, we can’t do that in India because taxpayer’s money has to be diverted to private pockets.”

Lalit Kumar, member of NGO Charity Beds which helps such patients get admitted in private hospitals under EWS, says, “It is a most sorry situation. We see poor pat­­­­­i­ents languish in hospital corridors for months before they can arrange for treatment.”

“The high court is right in saying that the people can’t be allowed to die just because they are poor. The Government has a responsibility in helping them, and it must do so.

(Published 23 June 2014, 16:46 IST)

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