India’s burden of disease rises, but doctor availability falls

Health ministry’s report also shows a major deficit in terms of hospitals and infrastructure


Finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced in his Union budget that four new AIIMS and 12 new government medical colleges will be set up in India to bring down the costs of health services. Photo: Hindustan Times
Finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced in his Union budget that four new AIIMS and 12 new government medical colleges will be set up in India to bring down the costs of health services. Photo: Hindustan Times

New Delhi: India’s doctor-to-population ratio worsened in 2013 with just one doctor available for a population of more than 1,200 people, even as the world’s second-most populous nation grapples with a growing burden of disease.

There is one allopathic or AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) doctor for a population of 1,217.84 compared with 1.3 doctors per 740.49 people in 2012, according to the National Health Profile 2013 released by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday.

The Medical Council of India (MCI) in 2011 had said a doctor-population ratio of one doctor per thousand population could be achieved by the year 2013. The Union health minister earlier this week informed the lower house of the Parliament that the MCI has recommended establishment of 16 new medical colleges with an intake capacity of 2,050 MBBS seats and an increase of 600 MBBS seats in 10 existing medical colleges for the academic year 2014-15.

There is a major deficit in terms of hospitals and infrastructure as well. The average population served per government hospital bed is 1,946, while every hospital serves an average population of 61,744— much more than the 50,689 people in 2012.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced in his Union budget speech that four new All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and 12 new government medical colleges will be set up in India to bring down the costs of health services. According to the health accounts report of 2008-09, 71.62% of the health expenditure is private, while only 26.7% is public and 1.68% is from external flow.

The per capita private expenditure is three to four times more than the per capita public expenditure, noted the report, except for a few union territories, and the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim.

The National Health profile is published by the health ministry’s Central Bureau of Health Intelligence every year.

The report, which also takes stock of the burden of disease morbidity and mortality, noted that acute respiratory infections accounted for the maximum number of cases among various communicable diseases reported by the states. The data in the National Health Profile also showed that non-communicable diseases like diabetes and coronary heart disease have been rising in the country since 2000. It forecast that more than 60 million Indians will suffer from coronary heart disease by 2015, and more than 40 million will suffer from diabetes by 2015.

“It is clear that our infrastructure has not grown on par with our population, but the government proposing to set up more AIIMS hospitals and medical colleges is an encouraging sign. However, health services need to develop at all levels from primary health centres to tertiary care. The focus needs to be on primary healthcare, developing manpower (especially nurses and allied health workers) and infrastructure,” said Kavita Narayan, hospital and health systems expert at the Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private initiative. India currently has 151,684 sub centres, 24,448 primary health centres and 5,187 community health centres, according to Rural Health Statistics.

Meanwhile the Union health minister at the release of the report stressed the need to expand India’s healthcare database to include the smallest details. “The country should be prepared and geared up for meeting any medical emergency.

A comprehensive healthcare database showing region-wise and location-wise availability of doctors, nurses, chemists, dispensaries, private practitioners and other human and health infrastructure will go a long way in building up our capacity for dealing with any health emergency,” Harsh Vardhan said.

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