Around 10% of India’s 1.4 billion population live below the World Bank’s median poverty line of $2.15 a day. Six out of 10 Indians survive on less than $3.20 a day, making it difficult for many to afford health care in India. Oxfam’s 2023 report highlights that the richest 10% own over 72% of the country’s wealth, while the top 1% holds around 40.6%. This economic disparity affects vulnerable households, impacting their access to basic necessities like health care. To understand the country’s health system better, here are five key points about health care in India.
- India Has a Huge Role in Producing Generic Medicines: India is one of the largest manufacturers of antibiotics, producing around 20% of all generic medicines worldwide in 2022. The country houses more than 3,000 pharmaceutical companies and is a crucial supplier of drugs worldwide, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. The country alone is mostly responsible for meeting Africa’s drug demand. Even higher-income countries like the U.S. and the U.K. depend on India for 40% and 25% of their generic drugs, respectively. Despite India’s contributions to medicine production, its vast population of 1.4 billion continues to face health challenges.
- Expensive Health Care Impoverishes Many Indians: According to The Asia Pacific Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, costly health services impoverish 55 million Indians every year and 17% of households have no choice besides spending substantial portions of their income on health annually. In spite of the constant battle for adequate health care in India, the country faces barriers that include physical access and affordability of health care as well as diagnostic concerns. Underfunding from the government has led to disproportionate levels of health care in India between states, with very few states having sufficient facilities for diagnosing and treating individuals. Despite the private sector having up-to-date facilities, costly services for essential trips mean that such private services are out of reach for many Indians.
- Many Indians Value Traditional Medicines: In India, many see the Ayurveda (science of life) system and herbal medicines as a cheaper alternative to conventional medicines. Ayurveda has been practiced in India for around 3,000 years and deals with symptoms, diagnosis and treatment based on mental, physical and spiritual health. In practice, this health system uses herbal medicines, meditation and breathing exercises to treat individuals with health concerns. For example, the Ayurveda system has been endorsed by organizations such as Cancer Research U.K. (CRUK) to help relieve cancer symptoms in patients.
- Malaria Is a Major Public Health Concern: According to WHO, the South-East Asia region was responsible for 2% of malaria cases globally; India was responsible for 79% of cases and therefore remains the country with the highest malaria burden. Roughly 83% of deaths in the South-East Asia region were from India in 2021. Despite this, the World Malaria Report has highlighted the decline of malaria cases by 49% and mortalities associated with the disease being 51% compared to 2017.
- Health Care in India Is Improving: According to WHO, India’s health sector has shown significant improvements, with life expectancy at birth increasing to around 70 years in 2020 from 50 years in 1970. In 2023, the government of India aims to enhance its health sector with World Bank financing worth $500 million to support India’s flagship program Pradhan Mantri-Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission (PM-ABHIM), launched in October 2021, to improve the public health care infrastructure in India. The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the need for urgent care systems; this project aims to enhance health service delivery and pandemic preparedness across India.
Overall, the flagship program to improve infrastructure across health care in India demonstrates the country’s response to COVID-19 and efforts to protect the well-being of future generations. There is hope that the health sector will continue to improve if the government maintains its effort toward reforming the public sector.
– Rupinder Kaur