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Bitter taste

Not all deficiencies can be cured by medicine. What ails the healthcare system of India at present is an acute shortage of doctors. Recently, the Odisha government confirmed that 3,119 out of the 6,536 positions for doctors in the public sector are vacant. The situation, however, is not unique to Odisha.

TT Bureau   |   Published 09.04.18, 12:00 AM

Not all deficiencies can be cured by medicine. What ails the healthcare system of India at present is an acute shortage of doctors. Recently, the Odisha government confirmed that 3,119 out of the 6,536 positions for doctors in the public sector are vacant. The situation, however, is not unique to Odisha. About 36 per cent of the sanctioned posts for doctors in state-run healthcare units are vacant in West Bengal as well. But it is the primary health centres of the country that are affected the worst. Most of these operate with only one residing doctor whereas the Indian Public Health Standards guidelines stipulate the presence of at least two, along with a lab technician and a pharmacist. Across the country, as many as 1,974 PHCs do not have a single doctor. This is especially alarming, since PHCs are the only source of medical assistance in rural areas. However, the fault lines in healthcare do not end here. The lack of accessibility is another major concern: PHCs in the country are located about 10 kilometres away from the nearest village on an average. Almost 70 per cent of India's population is thereby privy to only nominal medical attention.

Yet, the Centre's response to such major institutional gaps is far from promising. The national medical commission bill's proposal of a 'bridge course' - training practitioners of alternative medicine to prescribe allopathic drugs in six months - to correct the doctor to patient ratio has been met with a series of protests by doctors in the country. The Centre's interest in extolling the virtues of traditional Indian medical practices though, is unsurprising. After all, the prime minister himself claims that the first plastic surgery was performed on Ganesha. But healthcare in India is the states' right. With this bill, the representation of the states in the national medical council would decrease: a state once represented for two years would not find representation in the commission again for the next 10 years. Within the states themselves, adequate incentive for doctors to participate in public service is missing. Last year, the Calcutta High Court reduced the mandatory government service term for doctors from three years to one. ButThe need of the hour is to expand infrastructure in rural areas. In this context, the introduction of career progression schemes for doctors, which promise assured raises in fixed tenures during a doctor's service, could be a viable solution. Attention must also be paid to improve the living conditions and security of doctors. Employing trained paramedics and launching telemedicine facilities in remote areas should also be considered.



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