Health care policy in most developing countries has emphasized the development of government-owned health services, largely financed by tax revenues. Following the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), many countries established systems consisting of peripheral clinics and health workers, integrated community health centers and a tiered system of public hospitals. As such systems became established, there was increasing attention given to how to obtain greater health impact from this service capacity.
Not in India. Here since Independence, the private health care sector has grown significantly. That its growth has profound implications for the general public is well understood but highly under-debated. Significantly, despite the problems resulting from the growth of the private sector, there has been little meaningful effort to establish market or regulatory mechanisms to ensure its appropriate growth. Instead of greater commitment to public spending towards health care, we see knee-jerk reactions like controlling prices of medicines that are already the cheapest in the world.
To be fair, since Independence, life expectancy at birth has doubled to 65 years. Yet, India is likely to fall short of deadline on most other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the WHO. It still accounts for 21% of the global disease burden and loses 6% to 12.5% of its GDP annually due to sickness.
It is therefore surprising that even in desperate times such as now; a glaring public need like universal and equitable health care fails to make it to the agenda of electoral politics. If good governance and its ensuing benefits are the main plank of the BJP, why then did its party President, Rajnath Singh simply talk of providing medical insurance to “even those living in villages and huts” and not pledge to deliver on the promise of Universal Health Care (UHC), a platform that the incumbent UPA fell woefully short on?
The popular adage ‘health is wealth’ has been turned on its head by successive governments that ruled India for the last 66 years. To the Indian citizen no wealth means no health. It is therefore, fervently hoped that an innocuous mention by the BJP will materialize into a strong electoral platform to provide much needed succor to the average Indian citizen.