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There, the minister resigns… and here?

   By Vijay Darda | 05-09-2022

The death of an Indian woman tourist in Portugal due to lack of treatment caused an earthquake, shaking the government there

Vijay Darda

Actually, the incident was very commonplace. A pregnant Indian woman had visited Portugal. The 34-year-old woman was 31 weeks pregnant. Her health suddenly deteriorated in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. She was taken to Santa Maria Hospital, the largest there. The hospital said there was no vacant bed in the maternity ward and she was referred to another hospital in the city. The woman died before reaching the second hospital. Doctors were successful in medically extracting the child safe and sound from the dead mother’s womb, but this incident caused an earthquake in Portuguese politics.

The incident attracted so much criticism of the government system that Prime Minister Antonio Costa was forced to accept the resignation of health minister Dr Marta Temido. You will be surprised to know that the health minister Temido is no ordinary woman. She played a major role in keeping Portugal safe during the coronavirus pandemic and was praised all over the world. Even getting such an eminent person to resign sends a vital message that every person’s life is important. Be it a local or a guest of the country. Negligence in the system should not be tolerated under any circumstances.

This raises a question in my mind that such incidents happen every day in one part or the other of the country. So, why don’t we have such a zero-tolerance policy in terms of healthcare? Leave aside the health minister ever resigning after such an incident, has any official of any hospital ever been suspended in such a situation? I am reminded of last year’s incident. Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya one day reached Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi as a common patient and sat on the bench. He wanted to experience firsthand what the situation was like for a common patient. He was hanging around when a guard pushed him with a stick. Later, Mandaviya himself narrated this story when he came to inaugurate a medical facility at the hospital. He said a 75-year-old woman needed a stretcher for her son but the guards did not help her. I was not surprised by all that the health minister said because this is the condition of almost every government hospital and everyone is aware of this fact.

It is worth mentioning that the NITI Aayog last year released a study report titled ‘Report on Best Practices in the Performance of District Hospitals’. Although the report was based on figures for the year 2017-18, every page of that report is a reflection of truth. The report says that out of 707 district hospitals in the country, not a single hospital met 100 per cent of the standards. I do not want to go into the figures of the report, but we have to accept the fact that our system is proving to be a laggard as far as the healthcare services are concerned. According to the World Health Organisation, there should be at least five beds for every 1000 people, but in our country, this number is only around 0.4. I would like to mention here that in Japan this number is 13. The truth is that the health sector has never been our priority in our country. On an average, only 1 per cent of the GDP is spent on health, whereas in countries like Britain and America, more than 8 per cent of their GDP is spent on health. Did you know that 17 per cent of the known diabetes patients in the world are in India? That is why India is being called the diabetes capital of the world, but our government is not worried about it.

Even if we keep all these things aside, the biggest question is whether the resources that we have are being used properly? The government spends a lot on its own for medical services at the district and panchayat levels. Super-specialty hospitals have been built. The expenditure on doctors, nurses, equipment and infrastructure is not as much in private hospitals, but people do not like to go to government hospitals because the hygiene part leaves a lot to be desired there. Machines stay out of order. There are no medicines! I am not blaming just for the sake of it. Reality has to be accepted. If you visit any government hospital, you will be greeted with general nonchalance. You might recall the incident wherein a person, unable to get an ambulance, carried the body of his wife on his shoulder. Newborns die due to fire in our hospitals. Patients die as the oxygen pipes get detached. There are discrepancies galore.

As a matter of fact, government hospitals abroad are usually the best. If we talk about India, the government and municipal hospitals in Mumbai are in a better condition. The question is why can’t government hospitals be better in small cities, towns or villages? Why does no minister, MP, MLA, district panchayat chief, councilor or senior official go to a government hospital for treatment? If the healthcare services are to be improved, it should be made mandatory for all the people’s representatives and bureaucrats to get themselves and their family members treated only in the government hospitals. Do this and then see… how miracles happen!

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