Doctor-patient ratio shockingly low

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The shortage of doctors in government clinics and hospitals in India, in general, and in Karnataka, in particular, is reason for serious concern. According to the latest National Health Profile, released by the Union Ministry of Health, India has just one doctor for every 11,082 people in its government-run health facilities. This is way below the 1:1,000 ratio prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Even more alarming is the doctor-population ratio of states like Karnataka, which has on average just one government doctor catering to the needs of 13,556 people. Indeed, Karnataka’s doctor-population ratio is the worst among the South Indian states. In fact, the availability of doctors appears to be worsening in the state. It had a doctor-population ratio of 1:13,257 last year. The situation with regard to specialists is worrying, too. Karnataka’s primary healthcare centres have only 2,136 doctors, while its community health centres have just 498 specialists, with not a single specialist joining the CHCs last year.

Karnataka is among India’s most economically advanced state. Indeed, its economy is growing faster than all the southern states and is among the economic toppers in the country. With a growth rate of 10%, it stands third in the country, after Maharashtra and Gujarat. It has 126,399 registered doctors and thus stands second in the country in this regard. It also has the largest number of medical colleges in the country and boasts of having a robust medical tourism industry. Why then are its government-run hospitals and health centres suffering from such a severe shortage of doctors? The answer is obvious. Most doctors prefer to work in the private sector. They prefer working in corporate hospitals where they get better salaries and perks or set up their own clinics. In contrast, government hospitals pay poorly and do not provide doctors with even basic facilities, medicines and equipment.  

Although the government may not be able to match corporate salaries and facilities for its doctors, they need to be paid more than they are at present. Getting a medical degree is expensive and many youngsters take out loans to study. Consequently, several young doctors are forced to work in the private sector in order to be able to repay their loans. Higher salaries will attract young doctors, at least those who want to make a difference to the lives of ordinary people. Simply building hospitals and health centres is not enough. If we want to provide better healthcare to the poorest and most marginalised sections of society, we need expertise. And expertise does not come cheap. While our legislators and bureaucrats regularly hike up their own salaries, the salaries of government doctors, interns and nurses remain low. It is time the government hiked pay for doctors and staff in its hospitals.

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Doctor-patient ratio shockingly low

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