India's health, a poor show

India's health, a poor show

India is used to finding itself at the bottom rungs of all indices compiled worldwide to measure performance in areas like health, education and women’s status. All these are inter-related and so performance in one influences achievements in others. But they are often studied separately to identify problems and find solutions. The extremely poor score of India in a host of health-related indicators, as seen in a report card based on a Global Burden of Disease Study, 2015, is very revealing as some earlier reports were. The country ranks 143 in a list of 188 countries in the index develo-ped to assess the achievements of individual countries on the UN’s health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Achievement of different SDG targets which have a bearing on health, like hygiene and access to water, was studied, and a composite index was made out of 47 indicators. Both the separate indicators and the composite index present a dismal picture.

In the overall score, India is much behind China and is placed lower than even war-ravaged Syria and Iraq. This should be a terrible comment on the health status of most people in the country and on the implementation of public health policies of successive governments.

The score is shamefully low on some individual components. It is eight in a scale of zero to 100 in the case of safe hygiene practices and 22 in people’s access to water. The score is 10 on malaria eradication while Syria and Libya have scored 100 by eradicating the disease. Such reports which show the failure of the country in social sector performance appear regularly. For those who live in the country, there is no need for such reports to know how bad the situation is. Yet progress is very slow in efforts to achieve social sector targets. The large size of the population is no excuse.

The national spending on public health is 1.4% in India while it is 3% in China and 6% in the UK. There are countries which spend more than that. The spending is not efficient too. Policies are not well formulated and implementation of programmes suffers from poor execution, mismanagement and corruption. The Swachh Bharat campaign has not made much impact even in two years. Enough health personnel are not available and the poor do not have access to affordable healthcare. Health insurance has not reached most people. Public health and education are important conditions for economic development. Frequent reports of our failure in these areas should serve as reminders of the massive challenges before the country.
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