Universal health care has recently become a hot-button issue in the United States. However, the idea has also been popularized in developing nations, namely: India.

India’s current health care system struggles to provide for many in need of medical attention. Dr. Paras Pokharel, Professor JN Pande and Professor LM Nath outline the major challenges in a presentation at the University of Pittsburgh. According to the educators, the enormous population of India creates a strain. With 1.24 billion citizens and counting, “India is the second most populous country in the world” and health care systems are “over-burdened by increasing population.”

Additionally, India is confronting the “twin epidemic” of both infectious diseases and chronic degenerative illnesses. These ever-growing problems, in conjunction with the poor economic and educational status of a large segment of India’s population, create a strain on the existing health care system.

According to The National Bureau of Asian Research, there are two major health care providers in India. The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is “the central government’s attempt to improve delivery of services in public facilities,” while the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) is “a health insurance program led by the Ministry of Labor and Employment.”

In short, the RSBY provides coverage of expenses for impoverished Indians, while the NRHM attempts to improve existing health care services. The Bureau says that it is still “not clear whether this program improves population health.”

Researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) have examined the possibility of universal health care for India, as they claim, “those accessing health care in the public sector generally receive poor quality services.” Additionally, The National Bureau of Asian Research states that in the private sector “there are a large number of health workers who have only a high school education or do not have a medical degree.”

The WHO examined the Indian city of Chandigarh. Chandigarh has an array of both public and private health care services to serve a population of over 1 million citizens. Following data collection, the WHO formulated a package of health care services, complying with the guidelines of the Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS).

One of the most important aspects of the study was, of course, the final cost. The WHO says that by using generic drugs each household in India would have to pay INR 6852 (USD $152) annually in order to sustain universal health care. This would make the amount of the GDP going toward health care rise from 1 percent to 3.8 percent.

According to both The Wall Street Journal(WSJ) and The National Bureau of Asian Research, the Indian government must aim to reduce out-of-pocket costs for Indians, which can be as high as 70 percent of the bill, and provide access to free medication. Additionally, the WSJ reports that the number of doctors in India is far too low to serve the country. Providing students with the opportunity to be trained in the medical field is essential. In order to do so, doctors suggest increasing the number of seats in medical schools.

The possibility of universal health care in India exists, but requires a comprehensive overhaul of the economic and educational systems that currently exist.

— Bridget Tobin

Sources: University of Pittsburgh, NBR, WHO, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Time