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Analyzing Health Care in India

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I remember coming home from school after my first day of fifth grade to my mom crying. My 8-year old cousin in India had passed away after a long battle with Crouzon Syndrome. After going through dozens of surgeries right after his birth, doctors only gave him a few years to live; however, up until his eighth birthday, he was still pushing forward and trying to prove his doctors wrong. Despite shortcomings such as severe paralysis in his right leg and chronic respiratory difficulties, he remained a resilient, optimistic and positive human being. The most unfortunate part of Varun’s story is that he could still be living today but was denied admission to a hospital before his death. India’s negligence toward its citizens’ health allowed for Varun to suffer without receiving one bit of medical attention.

Varun’s story has prompted me to be a voice in the movement to improve public health in India. India, which ranks 138th in the world for real GDP per capita, has had issues with providing access to quality healthcare for its rapidly growing population. Only 25 percent of residents have access to any form of healthcare, and the disparity in medical attention given to urban and rural areas keeps growing. While the government has tried to address the lack of basic medical attention in rural states like Bihar with the National Health Mission, the program has experienced significant budgetary constrictions that minimize the effect of its efforts. Inadequate compensation for doctors and exorbitant pharmaceutical costs for drugs and distribution remain some of the financial issues that are plaguing reform efforts. While India guarantees universal health care, it has often relied on the private sector to provide superior access to biomedical devices and surgical procedures; however, this model is unsustainable given the massive amounts of citizens that cannot afford the steep prices.

Private hospitals have been shown to charge over 30 percent more than public health care programs on the same procedures, and the lack of price fixation and government regulation allows healthcare providers to keep its processes opaque. However, India’s troubles with instituting their “universal” health care program are not unique; nations part of ASEAN and BRICS also have major concerns over accounting for accelerating growth and rising medical care costs. Across the board, developing nations continue to suffer from poor healthcare payment methods, minimal care for the elderly and limited access to prescription drugs.

Given that many healthcare concerns stem from financial constraints, it is imperative to address how spending can be optimized to provide widespread and quality healthcare. First and foremost, developing nations like India must fully embrace the growing influence of technology in the healthcare sector, as machine learning and predictive analysis have been shown to reduce long-term costs. By building a database of patients, their illnesses, treatment methods, and success rates, hospitals and clinics will be able to use machine learning to identify patterns more efficiently, thereby reducing costs and time spent in evaluation periods.

In areas where access to such technology is unavailable, healthcare providers may need to look to the private sector to improve the quality of healthcare available in rural areas. For example, Zipline, a company that specializes in delivering critical medical supplies to underdeveloped regions with the use of drones, has already partnered with the governments of Rwanda and Tanzania to establish distribution and fulfillment centers. This drone delivery system would massively improve distribution logistics and access to sufficient prescription medication. While expanding public health programs will take time in India, the government can attempt to make private health care more accessible by requiring financial transparency and stricter regulations. Instituting prospective payment methods that set a fix priced for healthcare services prior to treatment will help address concerns over inflated procedural costs that deter India’s middle and lower classes. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, India and countries alike need to focus on educating future doctors. In the past 30 years, schools like the All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have not grown at the same rate as the population, thereby excluding batches of young doctors seeking admission. In order to increase the number of doctors in the workforce, India must first be willing to making public medical education more accessible by increasing admissions and establishing schools in rural areas.

While there is no bringing Varun back, I hope to be a part of the movement that gives kids like him a fair shot at experiencing a prosperous life.

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