Ostrich Syndrome!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Great Indian Medical Bazaar- Where are we heading?

It is around a year that the kidney scandal in Gurgaon was exposed, more by chance than with intent. It was a grim reminder of how a corrupt and a defunct social system can play in the hands of those who wait for every opportunity to milk the downtrodden and underprivileged sections of this great country. The scandal was an interplay of complex social factors which thrive on the blood of the “have nots”. The illegal kidney transplant scandal clearly showed that in a country with one billion people, human life and specifically human organs are up for sale. The scandal exposed the ugly face of poverty and misery which compel the not so willing donors to sell their vital organs for a price. Although it is a different issue that not all donors get what they were promised.
The scandal was more than a story of sinister gang of medically trained criminals out and about harvesting kidneys from unwitting donors. It is a matter of grave concern and debate that in the present day and era something of this magnitude was happening next to the capital, right under the noses of the elite and the powerful. It also reflects poorly on the health system of a nation which recorded all time high indices of market growth in the same year. Corporate hospitals and stories of their horror are not new for me. In each and every out-patient clinic I see at least two or three patients mis-treated, under-treated or over-treated in the biggest of the corporate hospitals of Delhi and its neighboring areas. It should be very clear in our minds that the corporate sector is meant to mint money and we cannot really blame the devil for being evil.
The need of the hour is introspection into the public health sector. Why have the people lost faith in our age old public health system? Why do people avoid going to a government hospital where treatment is supposed to be free? It’s high time that we find answers to these innocent but not so simple questions. The decay of Indian public health sector has been gradual but consistent. Lack of a health vision, lop sided health policies, irrational and unrealistic health goals and apathy of governmental machinery in allocating funds for the health have all added to the confusion which prevails in the Indian public health sector. Unfortunately we doctors are also to be blamed for this poor show. It is a common knowledge that a significant chunk of our young doctors go abroad to get ‘trained”. It is estimated that in every 20 doctors practicing medicine in the US, one is an Indian. Indians make up roughly 20 percent of the "International Medical Graduates" - or foreign-trained doctors - operating in the U.S. A training which allows them to live the rest of their lives in UK and USA criticizing Indian system and concluding that nothing can be done to save India and its people.
Gurgaon kidney scandal had exposed the ugly side of corporate health practice in this country. It is a slap on the faces of those who feel that privatization is the solution of all problems in this great nation. As if we have forgotten the Carbide experience, the Blue line experience or the privatization of health sector in its present form and shape. Having said this, it is also a reminder for the public health sector to set its own house in order.
It’s more than a year since the discovery of the Gurgaon Kidney racket. Things haven’t changed. Most of us, and importantly the people who decide health matters in this country, seem to have forgotten the story. Change was urgent and so was the need for stringent laws of organ trade. Health matters do not bring votes. The corporate world flourishes as new hospitals throng the landscape. The journey of the poor sick Indian continues. An urgent need for revamping the ailing health system of this land remains unfulfilled.

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