Deadline: April 10th, Transforming Health Systems

Deadline: April 10th, Transforming Health Systems
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Shortage of specialists puts healthcare on life support

When seven-month-pregnant Khiloni of MP’s Gwalior district started haemorrhaging, her family bundled her into a bullock-cart and took her to the nearest primary health centre in Murar block. The PHC had no trained birth attendant and Khiloni died on the kuchcha road that links Duhiya village and Gwalior city. When it comes to healthcare, there are two Indias: one that boasts state-of-the-art hospitals which attract medical tourists from affluent countries, and the other — in which most of the population lives — whose residents have limited or no access to quality care. Every public hospital in any big city has serpentine queues, and overburdened doctors. Not surprising since India has just six doctors for every 10,000 people as compared with the global average of 15, according to a 2007 report by rating agency Crisil. "States like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have just two doctors for 100,000 people," says Benaifer Jehani of Crisil. A recent Planning Commission report said that India is facing a shortage of six lakh doctors, ten lakh nurses and two lakh dental surgeons. "The availability of specialist manpower at community health centres is particularly bad. As against the sanctioned posts, about 59.4% surgeons, 45% obstetricians and gynaecologists, 61% physicians and 53% paediatricians were not in position (in March 2006)," the report noted. It also drew attention to the low turnout of doctors with post-graduate degrees. The shortage of surgeons and specialists is also worrying doctors like Devi Shetty, cardiac surgeon and chairman of Narayana Health City, Bangalore. "We have 32,000 students passing out every year with MBBS degrees, but only 10% of them get to do post-graduation. Even in Karnataka, which has more colleges for PG as compared to the northern states, as many as 1,000 applicants vie for a single PG seat." The country urgently needs more institutes of higher medical education, he stresses. The government seems to have woken up to the problem. The Union health ministry is modifying some of the regulations under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, that will relax operating, staffing and land norms and make it easier to establish medical colleges in India. In a move to bring back Indian doctors settled abroad, the Indian government has also decided to recognize graduate medical degrees from Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, provided they are recognized in the respective countries. Until now, doctors with an undergraduate degree from India but a graduate degree from another country were not allowed to practice in India. Indian doctors with graduate degrees from the approved countries will now be allowed to practise in India at any public or private hospital. They can also be recruited to teach under-graduates in any medical college. These steps may alleviate the situation somewhat but the medical fraternity is unanimous in its opinion that more needs to be done, specially in view of the continued exodus of medical talent to the West. With millions afflicted with infectious diseases such as TB and the growing incidence of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and heart problems, the availability of highly skilled doctors may prove crucial in nursing the country back to health. (Neelam Raaj With inputs from Nirmala N Nagaraj in Bangalore)
Source -Times of India