SEATTLE, Washington — India is the second most populated country in the world. To some people, the stereotypical image of India is that of a place where the streets are dusty, the water is full of contaminants and cows wander freely. Naturally, this seems like a place where diseases are likely to run amuck. Fortunately, India’s national health mission aims to protect its citizens from horrible diseases and early graves.
India’s Healthcare Problems
India’s healthcare system is far from perfect. Only 4.2 percent of its GDP is spent on healthcare, and those who live in rural areas usually don’t have access to hospitals or professional doctors. Only 5 percent of Indians are covered by some form of health insurance, so most of them have to pay for healthcare in cash, which many rural Indians can’t afford.
Most of India lacks basic sanitation and healthcare infrastructure, which exacerbates everything from the frequency of diarrhea to the frequency of HIV. In fact, 7 percent of children die before the age of 5 because of malnutrition often caused by diarrhea. The healthcare devices sector had been stifled by regulation until recently. Now, it has become one of the fastest growing sectors even though it is still underfunded.
India’s National Health Mission
In May 2013, India launched a plan to better its healthcare system through several national healthcare programs. Among the stated goals were to reduce anemia in teenage girls to 28 percent, prevent and reduce mortality rates from noncommunicable diseases and injuries, reduce the amount that households have to pay for healthcare, cut the annual mortality rate from tuberculosis (TB) down by half, cut down on the incidence of leprosy and malaria and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
One way these programs plan to accomplish their goals is by creating new infrastructure, delivering needed services to understaffed facilities, putting two pilot districts under universal health coverage and providing outreach services. The government of India is working with various organizations like the World Health Organization, USAID and UNICEF who are focused specifically on 18 rural states.
Another goal was to make the Indian system of medicine (AYUSH) more mainstream. India also planned to stabilize its rapidly growing population by regulating the fertility of both men and women as well as by providing better maternal and infant healthcare. They also plan to provide better educational services to women help prevent unwanted pregnancy and to update abortion practices to be safer and more accessible.
Another goal is to promote healthy living by stationing a health care activist in each village and setting up village healthcare plans and rural hospitals. Various nutrition programs were set up to encourage better eating, especially in children and teenagers. In addition, Indian authorities set up programs to control tobacco use, promote oral hygiene and prevent and control cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and strokes.
The Impact So Far
India’s national health mission has had a profound impact on healthcare in India. For starters, the rate of TB has declined from 5.09 million people to 3.31 million thanks, in part, to the website put up by the government detailing the prevention and treatment of TB. The number of children under 5 who die annually has dropped from 1.32 million to 1.2 million. The number of malaria cases has dropped from 3.4 million to 1.78 million.
The annual maternal mortality rate has dropped from 215 in 2010 to 173 per 100,00 by 2015 likely because 46.6 percent of births are now attended by a skilled handler. The number of babies per woman has gone down from 5.71 to 2.28, and the smoking rate among adults has held steady at 18.6 percent. Finally, in rural areas, 33.8 percent of the population now has access to basic sanitation, which is up from 10.6 percent in 2000. Furthermore, existing healthcare systems are being strengthened across the states, including the introduction of new ways to dispose of medical and general waste.
The Ultimate Goal
Ultimately, India’s national health mission is to provide universal healthcare to all of its citizens. This entails applying all of the goals mentioned thus far to everyone in the country. However, the divide between rural and urban life in India remains an obstacle since many rural Indians still do not have access to decent healthcare. The plan is to make sure that no one has to pay out of pocket for healthcare by protecting everyone under the same policy.
While American media often depicts India as a dirty, unhealthy place to live, conditions there are improving. Thanks to India’s national health mission, fewer people are getting sick, even fewer are dying from preventable diseases, more children are reaching their 5th birthday and rural sanitation is at an all-time high. These trends show no signs of stopping, meaning that India is heading for a very healthy future.