Starting by considering himself privileged to be speaking at the tenth DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas, professor Vikram Patel, a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He began his talk explaining the case of his mother who after having delivered the second girl child went into depression and her illnesses only increased over the next few decades of her life.
“My mother endured the medicines, but I think she suffered because of it,” stated Patel who explained that just like any other patient who wants to live, she became extremely dependent on the medical system. It was not until her end was near in September 2016 that she decided she wasn’t going to be admitted in a hospital ever again.
Throwing light on the health sector in our country Patel explained that there are two India’s – the rural and the urban. “Of course we have world class health care,” he said. Elaborating over the same he said that while in the urban areas people do have access to world class health care, it is sad that for people living in the rural areas, lack even the basic medical facilities or care.
Delving further into the crisis of healthcare in our country he revealed some startling facts backed by research. While we are all aware that the poor don’t get treated because they can’t afford it, he went on to say that the rich get treated for what they don’t actually need, but do so because they have the money and the doctors prescribe them.
“Medical inflation is outstripping anything else including our food bills,” he said explaining how 50 per cent of the people in India sell off their assets or borrow money to treat themselves off illnesses. He said it was indeed a time to celebrate the reduction of stent prices in India by 85 per cent, while he revealed that the profits on stents earlier ranged between 270 to 1000 per cent and that of syringes manufactured in India and exported, profits are over 400 per cent. Thus he explained how there is a nexus among the various stakeholders in the health sector including pharmaceutical companies.
Whilst pointing out that this medical inflation will only continue to rise, he said there is a need to reclaim health. “People’s health in people’s hands is the way to reimagining health care”, he explained.
The co-founder of the NGO Sangath based in Goa, Patel explained the work and research undertaken by the organisation in mobilising people to take care of their own health through community workers. He explained how not just mental illness but other sicknesses can also be dealt with by common people who are trained, thus making healthcare affordable and accessible to the rural population at their door step. Besides, it also generates employment to the community workers who believe in caring for others.
He highlighted the findings of the 1st National Mental Health Survey 2015-2016 which showed that 1 hundred million people suffer from mental illnesses of various forms. He also spoke about alcoholism and asked people not to treat it like a moral problem but as an illness. “Treat alcoholics with compassion,” he appealed.
He explained how human health can be improved through changes in lifestyle and personal behaviour and that the strength of the public system lies in our own hands and not on the medical system. He concluded by explaining that care givers today, be it in our family – like in his mothers case the care giver was his father – are the key to reimagining health care.