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Healthcare in dire straits in India, says Amartya Sen

‘It is also not considered important enough to invite media coverage’

By: Express News Service | Mumbai |
January 29, 2017 3:22:30 am
amartya sen, healthcare, india healthcare, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, india news, indian express news Nobel laureate Amartya Sen at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research on Saturday. (Source: Ganesh Shirsekar)

Expressing concern about the poor state of healthcare in India, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said public healthcare has not only witnessed a slide over the past few decades but is also not considered important enough to invite media coverage or politicians’ attention. Sen was delivering a talk, ‘Healthcare for all: Why and how’, at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research on Saturday.

Sen said, “India spends a little over 1% of its Gross Domestic Product on healthcare …. there is wastage even while spending.” He compared it with China that spends around 3% of its GDP on healthcare and developing countries such as Zambia that were known to spend around 11% of their total budget on healthcare.

He said this ignorance has led to India’s health indicators dropping drastically among SAARC nations in the past few decades. “While six decades back India was second only to Sri Lanka, now it is second last, ahead only of Pakistan,” the Bharat Ratna awardee said.

Citing an empirical analysis of editorial space given to healthcare in a leading newspaper, undertaken by him and development economist Jean Dreze, he rued that the healthcare sector got scant attention from the media. He added that even political parties did not give healthcare much importance.

“None of the major political parties made any mention of healthcare in the 2014 hustings as well,” Sen said. He said he regretted the lack of public discussion on the subject.

Sen also drew parallels with the metaphor of snake and ladder game. Sen said healthcare is yet to benefit from the goods delivered by economic growth.

He said during the past 25 years, we have grown on the ‘ladder’ of economic development but the lack of healthcare facilities has acted like the ‘snake’.

He added that there was an urgent need to stop exploitation of the poor and ignorant patients by doctors. Healthcare should also include the social determinants of health, such as nutrition, sanitation and social equity, Sen added.
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