Do government and policies encourage the best healthcare practices?
Government in India supports all kinds of health care systems — public, private, informal, and those run by NGOs and social businesses — but remains too inefficient to provide enough quality healthcare to the rural areas where it is most needed.
Given this reality, several questions come to mind: Is the government investing their limited budget in the appropriate systems? Should they diversify their funds to ensure health care to the 67 percent of the population that still do not have access to essential medicine nowadays? Or is it an issue of improving current policies and/or creating new ones? As we analyze these health care system alternatives and the government’s policies applied for each of them in India, we will be able to conclude that not-for-profit projects like World Health Partners (WHP) is the most efficient, affordable and impacting approach for developing countries like India, where 37.2 percent of the people live on under two dollars per day and the doctor-to-patient ratio is a concerning 1 to 30,000. WHP mitigates this problem with the creation of a network platform that allows patients to be treated by professional doctors through telemedicine and other technologies in their own communities.
A deeper look into public healthcare in India
India is one of the bottom five countries in the world investing in public health care: it represented only 1.37% of its GDP in 2009. This means that even though the government aims to support this type of system, they may not have enough budget to efficiently sustain it. On the other hand, qualified doctors are mostly located in cities, because of the lifestyle and better job opportunities, while 69 percent of the population in India lives in rural villages. This leaves the rural areas unattended, impacting millions of lives. As health care is a basic need for all citizens, the government should focus on increasing its investment in facilities and doctors for rural areas, where it has failed so far.
The private health care system: Affordable for all?
This failure of government to provide public health care in rural areas opens the door for the private sector to take over. Although this means that more facilities are created and more doctors are available to the public, the high prices often price care out of reach, especially for those who have few resources to sustain themselves and their families.
Deepak’s family is one of the families impacted by this system. They live far away from the closest city’s public health care center, but only three miles away from a private clinic. Even though they are proximate to a health care center, they cannot access this service because they are not able to pay for it.
To address this affordability issue, the government offers below poverty line (BPL) cards to give health care benefits to the poorest population. This system is still inefficient as corruption arises regarding the accuracy of the criteria to assign the cards to the people who need them. Government should control and ensure that all people under the poverty line have BPL cards and people who are not, do not. This would help ensure that unprofessional individuals cannot act as practitioners in rural areas, developing an unregulated and unsafe health care structure, that now succeeds in communities due to the fact that sometimes it is the only option available to the people living there.
NGOs: The tireless effort-makers
Because of the need for additional and more qualitative health care to cover the gap in rural areas, NGOs have grasped the opportunity to help increase the standard of living in the communities by providing their services. The LEPRA Society or the Uday Foundation are only some of the many examples of NGOs that work in health-related projects focused in poor communities in India. Despite their efforts, there is still the need for projects or organizations that can scale at a faster rate to assure the sustainability of the final social impact, as well as the support from government to invest in them and to encourage others do the same.
World Health Partners to the rescue
Stronger policies in healthcare in India are key to ensure quality services for all. Nevertheless, and due to the difficulties faced in each of the systems provided, the most efficient approach would be to encourage and invest in social businesses or non-profit organizations like World Health Partners (WHP). This initiative provides poor communities with health and reproductive services at the same time it empowers locals. After only functioning for five years, WHP had 107 telemedicine centers in Uttar Pradesh in 2011. In addition, WHP operates in 20,000 rural villages in India. It further aims to provide services to 74 million people in rural India by 2014. WHP has proven that despite the government’s lack of involvement, India can have a universal quality health care system.
Do you want to know about the entrepreneur that made this happen and how WHP is scaling its social impact? Then stay tuned for upcoming articles about this inspiring initiative.
By Deepak Bansal, Hadas Dagan, Christine Hermoso, Beatriz Varela Martínez-Barbeito. The authors are Master of Social Entrepreneurship candidates at Hult International Business School. Beatriz is a scholarship holder of Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza, Spain.