Health of the citizens and the economy of their nation go hand in hand and every buck spent on the former guarantees a manifold increase in the latter, said a noted public health expert.
K. Srikant Reddy, President of Public Health Foundation of India, said at a lecture on the overall health scenario on Monday evening: "Health and nutrition do accelerate economic development and (cause) greater equity and distribution of economic gains."
‘The lecture 'Health and Development: India Must Bridge the Disconnect' was part of the Changing Asia lecture series organised by the India Habitat Centre and the Society for Policy Studies.’
The lecture 'Health and Development: India Must Bridge the Disconnect' was part of the Changing Asia lecture series organised by the India Habitat Centre and the Society for Policy Studies.
Reddy talked of the sorry performance of the country on many counts related to the well-being of its people. He pointed out India's poor rankings overall in the Human Development Index and Happiness Index and attributed these to the dismal performance on health-related indicators.
He said that India was only second from the bottom in the entire South Asia on life expectancy, just above Pakistan, and below even Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
"There is only 64 per cent immunization of the total population... Which is around 90 per cent in many Sub-Saharan countries," Reddy, who was personal physician to former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and is an authority on public health issues, said.
"Even at the height of the civil war there, Sri Lanka had 90 per cent immunization," he said, adding that "we were certainly behind our peers in the BRICS group".
Reddy attributed India's high mother and infant mortality rate as two factors behind poor human development indices and reckoned that "30 per cent of children as underweight and undernourished does not bode well for a nation which wants to reap demographic advantage of being a young nation".
Among the ways to battle such shortcomings, Reddy suggested that we should treat health not as something merely "instrumental", a means to an end, but a thing to seek for its own sake.
"There is an intrinsic value of health apart from instrumental value and that health is a 'right'," he said.
A poor man should have just as easy access to public health system as a rich man. Reddy advised that India put in practice the concept of Universal Health Coverage (to which India is a signatory), a target mentioned in Sustainable Development Goals of United Nations, which entails "quality medicare without causing financial hardships" to the people.
"Universal Health Coverage works when there is a 'risk-pooling' and cost subsidy... (meaning) rich subscribed to the poor, healthy subscribed to the sick, young subscribed to the old," said Reddy.
"(It) requires a principle of solidarity, without which it cannot succeed, " he added.
Reddy also suggested that India strengthen its public financing system and increase the pool of revenue by overhauling the taxing system and plugging tax evasion so that more money could be allocated to public health expenditure.
According to a World Health Organization 2012 report quoted by Reddy, India spent 3.8 percent of its GDP on public health expenditure, behind China which spent 5.4 and much behind Germany and United Kingdom which allocated 11.3 and 9.3 per cent respectively.