Health ministers, politicians and their parties have left the common man to die in pathetic wards and ICUs of public hospitals in Bihar, which look more like overcrowded local train compartments and refugee camps than a hospital ward, while they themselves seek treatment in the top private hospitals.

Written by Dr Santosh Karmarkar

Year after year, hundreds of children have been dying in Public hospitals in North India with the same disease – Acute Encephalitis. And during these past years, all over the country, there have been increasing instances of doctors on duty in public hospitals being attacked by irate relatives and mobs. Both, the Encephalitis deaths and the increasing violence against doctors are overt signs of an acute-on-chronic failure of the public health sector across the country.

Health ministers, politicians and their political parties across the political spectrum have left the common man to die in the pathetic wards and ICUs of our public hospitals, which look more like overcrowded local train compartments and refugee camps than a hospital ward, while they themselves seek treatment in the top private hospitals in India or travel overseas. Not to forget that many a times their treatment is made free by these private hospitals (obviously under political pressure) or is paid for by the taxpayers money.

Time and again, report after report, committee after committee, study after study, op-ed piece after op-ed piece have highlighted the urgent need for improving the public health sector, starting first by putting the money where the mouth is and raising public health expenditure from a measly 1.5% of GDP to more respectable 3 or 4% of GDP.

But politicians and parties have consistently turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to these reports and cries. For what do they care if another few hundred poor man’s children die?

I have been a part of the health care system – both public and private – for more than three decades and have been a witness to the continued neglect and downfall of the public sector and a steady rise of the private and corporate sector in health care. Almost all governments across the country and throughout these 30 years have been accomplices in the criminal neglect of public health care in India. The much touted Ayushman Bharat scheme too relies on the private sector to deliver services and is not aimed at improving facilities in secondary and tertiary care public health centres. Just this week, large scale siphoning-off of funds was reported from this scheme with victimisation of poor patients. Thus what is needed urgently, before more and more poor people die of curable diseases because they have no access to good health care, is to quickly and efficiently improve the quality and the reach of the public health sector.

But what has been neglected for so long by so many won’t happen by itself.

When an individual doctor who has been negligent can be penalised by the consumer and criminal courts, why should Health Ministers not be similarly accused of gross medical — dare I say criminal — negligence in instances such as the recurrent deaths of children in Bihar. Let them be tried in whichever court — consumer or criminal — and let them be brought to book. As I write this, there is news that the Supreme Court is taking some suo-motto action to this effect.

It is the need of the hour that the Health Minister of Bihar is sacked forthwith and a suitable trial of his negligence conducted in the appropriate forum. It is very important that this step is taken. It is important because it will be a warning to governments and politicians that public health cannot be neglected any longer. It is important because it may lead to measures which will prevent hundreds and thousands more from dying due to shoddy care in public hospitals. And finally it is important because it will show that we care for every poor citizen in this country and not just for the rich who can afford to buy their health. It will show that we really stand for Sabka saath and Sabka Vikas.

In March this year, the Health Minister of Tunisia resigned over 11 deaths of babies in a government hospital. But not so with our politicians. How shameless have our ministers become; first they are negligent in their duty and then refuse to even feel any moral obligation to resign. The health minister of Bihar, Mangal Pandey, has not resigned till the writing of this article. Rubbing salt in the wound, the minister was apparently enquiring about how many wickets have fallen in the cricket match, during the conference on AES. It is time his wicket fell. He deserves to be sacked.

But again, to expect that the politicians and their parties will take his wicket is being naïve. This match is fixed. They know very well that after a few weeks the din will die down when the poor families who have lost these children will have to get back to their daily grinds to eke out their living with fewer living children.

Therefore the demand for the resignation of the concerned minister must be raised and persisted with, firstly by us doctors and then by every citizen who cares for this country and its people. It is high time that doctors across the country — and from all ideological and political leanings — call the politicians’ bluff and demand that Public Health care, which is a life and death issue for the 120 crore Deshwasis, is resuscitated at all costs and post-haste. It is time that all of us doctors — the guardians of the health of our people — look beyond temporary symptomatic treatment such as ‘increased security’ or ‘more infant warmers’. It is necessary to not miss the woods for the trees and to demand that we will not tolerate this neglect of Public Health care any longer.

The first step towards this will be to demand that the Bihar Health Minister be sacked. And may other health ministers and governments be warned.

Dr Santosh Karmarkar is a senior consultant pediatric surgeon and health activist in Mumbai

Source: Read Full Article