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Making Healthcare System in India a Major Agenda for G20 2023

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Making Healthcare System in India a Major Agenda for G20 2023
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“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not”

– Dr. Seuss

India’s Arduous Journey 

Hard to look at some facts but here we go!

India; a looted, invaded and colonised nation. From being misconstrued as a land of snake charmers, mystics and beggars to being acknowledged as an ancient, flourishing and incredible civilisation, India has travelled far and long.

Holding the presidency of G20 summit 2023 with the theme ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – ‘One Earth One Family One Future, India bears a responsibility. The responsibility to construct a healthcare dialogue for the people and Earth itself.  

The G20, incepted in 1999, is the group of earth’s richest and mightiest nations (19 countries and European Union) coming together for international economic cooperation. The G20 members represent around 85% of the global GDP, over 75% of the global trade, and about two-thirds of the world population.

Health & Healthy Environment: Was it a Priority?

After World War II, various international groups were formed, but their primary goals were trade, economy and peace. Then the international community started to care for earth, environment and climate. They did this by conducting various environment focused conferences setting goals and targets, for betterment of earth’s environment.

But there were revisions and delays in attaining their goals in the next conference. Clean air, clean water, clean food, all essential for healthy life but the targets to make them clean remain unreached.  

The World Health Organisation (WHO) was formed in 1948, to do good work, but Covid-19 pointed out its shortcomings. The very functioning, decisions and effectiveness of WHO depends on the nations and leaders which are funding it. The decisions at times were not quick enough during the spread of Covid-19. 

The two fundamental principles for our existence is a healthy earth and that for its residents’ health is real wealth. In absence of a healthy population every other development would be illusory. Can we rise if we are stunted and ill? I think all of us know the answer to this question.

Better late than never – G20 and Healthcare

When it comes to G20, it was only in the year 2017, the Health working group was formed to emphasise on Global health concerns.

Last year, in Indonesia, we saw health issues- finance and technology taking centre stage. “Global Health Architecture” was the top priority of the summit. The Indonesian theme for the G20 summit was Recover Together, Recover Stronger. For the first time at a G20 summit, the theme encapsulated health as top priority. 

Healthcare System in India from Ancient to Present Times

It’s an undisputed fact that India is home to one of the world’s oldest health care systems, both medicine and related technology. Ayurveda, that literally translates from Sanskrit to mean the science of life. We had ancient medical treatises of Charaka, a physician, and Shusruta, a surgeon, from whom various modern medical and surgical techniques such as rhinoplasty (known as nose job) is inspired. 

The oldest of all, Yoga, an art and science of healthy living, seeks to achieve harmony between mind, body, soul and nature. Yoga is abundantly used by people around the globe and is from India. These are just some illustrations to show historical India’s prowess in healthcare.

The aforesaid literature is so rich that the public healthcare system in India of the time must have been outstanding. However, due to centuries of invasion and colonisation (mostly of minds), the national healthcare system was broken. It found utterance only at the stroke of Midnight Hour on 15th August, 1947. 

Now, India has taken a welcome step towards Universal Health Coverage by launching Ayushman Bharat in 2018. Ayushman Bharat seeks to cover the poorest 40% of population. The scheme reinvigorated the national health system that aims to provide access to quality healthcare with financial support. Recently, India has also achieved WHO mandated doctor population ratio.

India: Healing the World

India’s drug and pharmaceutical exports have shown exponential growth in recent years. Where the developed world was struggling, India, under the Vaccine Maitri mission, rose up to occasion and exported hundreds of millions of vaccines to the world. Our affordable vaccines came as a saviour for low-income countries. 

It is trite that India delivers world class health care affordably. Indian doctors are among the world’s best. Indian hospitals and doctors use innovative tools to make healthcare cheap. As compared to any other country, medical tourism in India is highly cost-effective and qualitative, attracting patients from world over. 

In addition to above, India is also exporting its most valued resource, i.e., citizens to take care of the world, as a health worker. Indian nurses are most sought after by foreign countries.

All is Not Well in Healthcare System in India

Economic survey 2022-23, states various happy indicators like decrease in maternal and child mortality rate, increase in primary and community health centres etc. These may be true but there is a plethora of data, evidence otherwise. Instances where a person suffers irreparably or even dies because of absence of access to quality and timely healthcare system in India is still common.

India dosed almost all of its population with Covid-19 vaccine, however, the covid waves painted a grim picture of public healthcare. People suffered not only because of covid but also because the medical personnel care for other diseases remained low. 

Due to government interventions, the out-of-pocket expenses on healthcare has reduced over the years but it still remains significantly high. This impacts spending of people on education, nutrition and preventive care thus creating a vicious cycle. Recently, the budget’s allocation for health and nutrition called for more action when compared to allocation made for infrastructure development.

Healthcare System in India: A Major Agenda

Our Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, has said multiple times that India wants to reclaim its historical position of Vishwa Guru. There is no better way to make our position clear to the world than through the G20 summit.

Hitherto, the health care of citizens of earth is primarily the responsibility of governments created within man-made boundaries called countries. But this year, at G20, India should push forward for a collective responsibility of the world. 

At the recently concluded meeting of the Health Working Group of G20 India in Kerala, Dr. VK Paul, talked about Medical Value Travel and said,

“Government of India will be launching “Heal in India” initiative to leverage its healthcare services for international patients, “Heal by India” initiative to send out healthcare workforce to other countries. He also emphasised on the huge strength of India in telemedicine sector which could pave the way for “Heal from India” initiative.”

What it forgets to mention is healing Indians, and sharing with every country a public health system and health policy. A system with capability, human resources, infrastructure knowledge and technology to heal their people themselves. Most of the time timely action is the only difference between healthy life, suffering and death. 

India has chosen a G20 theme from an ancient Sanskrit text,i.e. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam literally means “The world is one family”. Meaning that the happiness of a neighbour is crucial for my own happiness. G20, two-thirds of the world’s population and around 60% of the world’s land area, needs to be remember that economic development without health won’t have much meaning. 

Smile Foundation and Healthcare in India

Smile Foundation cares for all individuals and places healthcare reaching to the remote and far-flung areas of India as one of its top priorities. It truly takes action towards its belief that Health Cannot Wait.

Smile Foundation’s healthcare programme aims at taking healthcare at the doorsteps of people. It encourages health awareness and contemporary healthcare-seeking behaviour among underprivileged people. It is done through campaigns, health camps organised at regular intervals, and providing health screening, medical care, and medicines through mobile health clinics. And we do realise, that we need to do much more.

It will be good if we remember Dr. Seuss quote from the children’s book The Lorax

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

– Dr. Seuss
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