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Posted at: Aug 12, 2015, 12:24 AM; last updated: Aug 11, 2015, 9:49 PM (IST)

An unhealthy health card

High mortality, yet low reporting of illness

A high-decibel emphasis on economic growth notwithstanding, a multitude of states continues to do poorly on the indicators of social development, especially health. An unhealthy workforce cannot build a healthy economy. Over the past decade, the cost of treatment has seen a double-digit rise, far outpacing average inflation, in both rural and urban India, according to a recently published National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report. Shockingly, government hospitals in even poorer states show abysmally low patient registration. That should not be mistaken for people being healthier. Healthcare awareness programmes are not on governments' agenda, even in better-off states. Only 4 per cent people reported some kind of illness in Chhattisgarh, 5.6 per cent did in Haryana. In contrast in Kerala, a state that has shown sound social parameters, 31 per cent of the population reported illness.
 
Public health experts are in agreement that out-of-pocket health expenditure is a reason for nearly one-sixth of India's poverty burden. The high cost of healthcare turns many families bankrupt or homeless. Yet, little attention is paid to preventive public health, such as sanitation and waste management, lack of which is the foremost cause of rampant spread of infectious diseases. The country witnessed 253 deaths per one lakh in 2012, the global average is 178. Even Nepal and Bangladesh have shown better healthcare parameters. The NDA government promised a transformation at least in sanitation, but the last one year has shown little change on that front.
 
The lack of effective state intervention in healthcare is responsible for this ailing picture. The government has to wake up to the fact that while millions have not reported in hospitals when they needed to, reporting of health issues has gone up by only two percentage points in urban India from 2004 to 2014; in rural India it has remained stagnant. Underreporting of illness does not mean good health, it reflects ignorance. At the very minimum, the government in the states and at the Centre should put in place infrastructure of basic minimum health awareness. If political leaders can spend enormous funds and energy at the election time to change minds, then they can surely show the same zeal and competence in making our citizens health-conscious.

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