New Delhi: India urgently needs to spend more on healthcare and save its poor population from poverty and hunger or face the risk of slower economic growth, leading health experts said in a report released on Tuesday.
India is home to more than 230 million undernourished people, more than any other country. While the proportion of malnourished has fallen, the absolute numbers are rising with the population.
“A sick and vulnerable population cannot contribute to growth and India will continue to see a pattern of growth that is leading to growing inequalities and low rates of poverty reduction,” Nisha Agrawal, chief executive officer of Oxfam told Reuters.
Experts say widespread malnutrition impacts dramatically on economic growth, with the World Bank saying that in the poorest countries it slashes 3% from annual economic growth.
More than 27% of the undernourished population globally live in India.
The government spends only 1% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare facilities, forcing millions of people to struggle to get medicines, Oxfam and 62 other agencies said in a report called: “Your Money or Your Life”.
Indian authorities acknowledge there is corruption and inefficiency in the government system, especially in villages where many health centres do not have medicines or doctors.
India’s economic growth has been forecast to hover around 6.3% for 2009-10, and growth could fall to 5.5% if farm output was badly hit by the worst dry spell in nearly four decades.
Aid agencies say if India wanted to reduce poverty by 2015, the year marked by the United Nations as the deadline to attain the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to development it needs to spend at least 3% of GDP on health.
“Poor people will continue to be denied their right to basic healthcare, leading to very high rates of infant and child mortality... indicators of welfare,” Agrawal said, if New Delhi continued to ignore basic healthcare.
India’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) stands at 450 per 100,000 live births - against 540 in the 1998-99 period - and way behind the MDGs which call for a reduction to 109 by 2015.
To improve on the dismal record, aid agencies say India needs to increase public expenditure and ensure better healthcare facilities.
“Without that, India will continue to be off track in attaining the MDGs, especially in the health care area and will continue to lag behind its peers in these basic indicators of welfare,” Agrawal added.