India is touted to become the third largest economy in the world in not-so-distant future but even when the country is making economic progress, rural healthcare still remains a conundrum that both the government as well as the private sector have been able to solve with limited success so far. Even the primary healthcare services have been found to be wanting in quality and quantity in the rural hinterlands, forget the secondary or tertiary healthcare. At a time when most diseases, including lifestyle related ailments, are permeating into both urban and rural households, there is heightened focus on these services in the villages and the associated human resource challenges in the sector.
Almost 70 percent of the doctors in India are concentrated in urban centers, serving around 30 percent of the total Indian population. People in urban India enjoy access to around 65 percent of the country’s hospital beds despite having less than 30 percent of the total population.
The difference in urban and rural healthcare services is only becoming starker and we still have a long way to go in building the bridges to cover the gaps in rural healthcare. Home to more than 60 percent of the national population, India can no longer simply dismiss its rural sector as the ‘sick child’, and needs to take essential steps in order to steer its healthy recovery.
Availability of trained medical professionals has been one of the raging issues in the upliftment of health and sanitation in remote areas to cater to the everyday needs of the habitants, who are thereby deprived of the basic medical facilities necessary for survival.
It is not just the rural hinterland, remote villages and tribal areas, quality tertiary healthcare is not available even to a bulk of urban population living outside a few glittering metropolitan cities. For example, in north India while Delhi NCR remains a hub of the best multi-specialty hospitals, even a 100 km move outside the region will leave you without a decent tertiary care hospital. This is evident from the fact that the Delhi NCR hospitals are crowded with people coming from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and even West Bengal.
Burden of diseases present in rural areas also
The burden of disease has started to weigh heavily in rural areas. A lot of people have to travel long distances to avail of life-saving treatments like dialysis. In the absence of quality cardiac care in smaller towns and villages, many people fail to survive a heart attack as they are required to travel long distances to nearby cities with decent healthcare facilities.
There are a lot of primary healthcare centres, especially in rural areas but devil lies in details. They continue to suffer from shortage of trained staff and absenteeism, private sector finds little incentive in investing heavily in rural areas. However, through some low cost but effective initiatives, the private sector can play a positive role in helping address the deficit of manpower in rural healthcare to some extent.
Private sector can play a vital role
Private sector healthcare service providers can expand the scope of the treatment provided at primary healthcare centres in villages. We need more public private partnerships to involve the private sector in rural areas. These partnerships can offer incentives to doctors to offer services in rural areas for a small number of days of a year. With severe shortage of specialized cardiologists, nephrologists, neurologists and gynaecologists, rural populations often have to make with less skilled doctors or worse quacks. PPPs that can take skilled doctors of reputed hospitals to offer services in rural health centres and recommend patient transfer if needed, can play a role in bridging this gap.
Strategically Placed Hospitals
Villages might not make perfect business sense for private hospital chains to go and establish a hospital there. However, the needs for profit and social benefit can be balanced by opening hospitals in smaller towns and cities which cater to large surrounding populations. Such endeavours also attract doctors who have left their state in search of greener pastures back to their roots.
Empowering village youth and train local manpower
The entire spectrum of healthcare service providers from doctors to nurses, radiologists, pathologists and paramedics are in short supply in rural India. Launching training programs for nurses and paramedics in smaller centres is another important initiative that can help address manpower shortage to an extent.corporating locals into the extensive training programmes, the initiative can ensure a long term solution to the low manpower in rural healthcare, with a motive to not only provide quick medical assistance by experienced professionals but a broad vision to empower the community. This encouragement to generation of rural employment is no surprise, considering the position of the company as the highest private employer in health industry.