Health Minister Azad favours Government-led health care in India

New Delhi: Strongly pitching for Government investment in health, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday said it is neither feasible nor advisable to have a private sector-led health care system in India as majority of the population cannot afford it.

Observing that private sector health care can have a devastating impact on family incomes, he said, "It is pertinent to remember that more than three crore people get impoverished every year on account of such medical expenditures".

"The need for increasing public sector investment is because of the inability of the majority of Indian population to afford private sector provisioning of health care," Azad said at a conference on infrastructure building here.

He said in India, it is neither advisable nor feasible to have a private sector-led health system like in the USA. "There is need to have both to cater to the different income segments of our society".

"With almost one-third of the population still below the poverty-line, high levels of illiteracy and malnutrition, the role of the public sector is not only relevant but essential for providing medical treatment to the poor," the minister said.

However, recognising the efficiency of the private sector, he said ancillary services like the laundry, security, diet, sanitation, waste disposal can be provided by private sector in public hospitals.

"Accordingly, we are working on a number of models under which diagnostics such as laboratory services, X-ray, CT and MRI and other high end equipments/services can be outsourced," he said.

Observing that the health-wealth connection which was recognised by western countries several decades ago, was unfortunately overlooked in the Indian development framework, Azad said, "it is only now that we are beginning to recognise that economic growth is only possible when it is founded on a healthy and literate population."

He said that though India was improving on its health indices, yet, it continues to be one of the largest contributors of disease burden in the world.

It is in this context that the building and forging of partnerships with private sector gains immense importance as health and well being is not and cannot be achieved by the health ministry alone.

It is estimated that 75 per cent of human resources, 68 per cent hospitals and 37 per cent of total bed capacity is in the private sector. The private sector has gained a dominant presence in the area of medical education, training and ancillary services, employing nearly 30 lakh persons.

But the Health Minister added that "with almost one-third of the population still below the poverty-line, high levels of illiteracy and malnutrition, the role of the public sector is not only relevant but essential, for providing medical treatment to the poor".

It is pertinent to note that, India is one of the five countries in the world, which has almost 80 per cent health spending incurred by households as compared to not more than 20 per cent to 50 per cent in developed countries.

Besides, the presence of private sector in rural areas is negligible in the northern states, hilly states and North Eastern states leaving a wide supply gap where rural areas have to increasingly depend upon public facilities to access health services.

The poor and the lower middle class strata of our society require state intervention to provide them protection against high cost of medical care.