Economic growth is fine, but what about healthcare?


India is climbing up the ladder on the world economic front at a vigorous pace. Aided by multiple factors such as the plummeting oil prices and a relatively low exposure to the current global financial turbulence, the International Monetary Fund expects India to have a growth rate of 7.5% in the next fiscal year (2016-17). It is expected that India will easily surpass China which is going through a slowdown having undertaken financial restructuring.

With the statistics and figures showing a flowery future for the country money-wise, it is easy to neglect one important aspect where India has been shambolic – Healthcare.

You might be wondering sitting in your urban bubble that the healthcare in India is more than adequate. That stands true until you realize that on an average 21.98% of India lives in abject poverty (Source: RBI Annual Report). This figure does not include those in the lower middle class which have a hard time affording health care.

Infant mortality is one of the biggest healthcare related issues the country faces. The infant mortality rate (IMR) is the number of deaths of infants under one-year-old per 1,000 live births. According to the CIA World Factbook and the 2015 revision of United Nations’ Population Prospect, the Infant Mortality rate in India is 41.81. This figure makes India stand at 126th rank in the world when it comes to infant health care. India’s IMR is worse than some rather underdeveloped and war-stricken countries like Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Gaza Strip, Libya and Ghana. The IMR is one of the most shocking indicators that show the status of social welfare in our country.

Another issue we face is malnutrition. The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest-ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world and is nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth. And although the latest government statistics on malnutrition state that it has fallen from over 45% to under 30% ever since the new government has come to power; a lot of the fall is attributed to the betterment of health in economically richer states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Kerala. In states like Assam, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, the condition continues to worsen. It is a very stark contrast.

Flamboyant in his speeches, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the National Health Policy in 2015 to offer universal healthcare; a plan that was expected to dwarf even Obamacare. However, the actual situation feels as if more food is portrayed on the plate than there actually is.

India is a low-middle income country as per the World Bank classification. In a decade, the growth in expenditure on healthcare in India has decreased from 4.3 percent to 4.05 percent. In a talk at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in 2012, it was noted that India spent about $40 per person annually on health care whereas the United States spent $8,500. The entire GDP of India was $1.6 trillion then while the US health care spending alone was $2.6 trillion.

It is true that the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in the latest annual budget, announced proposals in the Health Protection Scheme and the Jan Aushadhi Yojna to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to poor families. But we all know the state of such government schemes in our country. Either their implementation is inefficient or the process is so muddled up that people find it hard to access these schemes.

For a country like India which ambitiously aims to compete with large economic powers like the United States and China, it is a shame that the country isn’t adequately armed to protect the health of its citizens. Whether these proposals make a difference or not, is a story worth following.