Healthcare in India

The private sector is the dominant healthcare provider in India.[1]

Health care system

The private healthcare sector is responsible for the majority of healthcare in India. Most healthcare expenses are paid out of pocket by patients and their families, rather than through insurance. This has led many households to incur Catastrophic Health Expenditure (CHE) which can be defined as health expenditure that threatens a household's capacity to maintain a basic standard of living.[2] One study found that over 35% of poor Indian households incur CHE and this reflects the detrimental state in which Indian health care system is at the moment.[2] With government expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP falling over the years and the rise of private health care sector, the poor are left with fewer options than before to access health care services.[2] Private insurance is available in India, as are various through government-sponsored health insurance schemes. According to the World Bank, about 25% of India's population had some form of health insurance in 2010.[3] A 2014 Indian government study found this to be an over-estimate, and claimed that only about 17% of India's population was insured.[4] Public healthcare is free for those below the poverty line.[5]

Penetration of health insurance in India is low by international standards. Also private health insurance schemes, which constitute the bulk of insurance schemes availed by the population, do not cover costs of consultation or medication. Only hospitalisation and associated expenses are covered. India has typically addressed concerns pertaining to pricing of medication through indirect but more pragmatic means such as tax sops for medical expenses and patent law. Indian patent law only protects formulation and not the composition of a drug. This means that generic drugs that typically become available after the patent protections afforded to a drug's original developer expire, are available in India much earlier. Indian pharmaceutical companies routinely re-engineer processes for manufacturing generic drugs to make medication available at much lower costs.[6][7] Accordingly, most of the research budget in Indian pharmaceutical companies is oriented at developing processes for synthesising drugs, rather than drug development.

Plans are currently being formulated for the development of a universal health care system in India, which would provide universal health coverage throughout India.

Public and private healthcare

According to National Family Health Survey-3, the private medical sector remains the primary source of health care for 70% of households in urban areas and 63% of households in rural areas.[8] Reliance on public and private health care sector varies significantly between states. Several reasons are cited for relying on private rather than public sector; the main reason at the national level is poor quality of care in the public sector, with more than 57% of households pointing to this as the reason for a preference for private health care.[8] Most of the public healthcare caters to the rural areas; and the poor quality arises from the reluctance of experienced health care providers to visit the rural areas. Consequently, the majority of the public healthcare system catering to the rural and remote areas relies on inexperienced and unmotivated interns who are mandated to spend time in public healthcare clinics as part of their curricular requirement. Other major reasons are distance of the public sector facility, long wait times, and inconvenient hours of operation.[8] The study conducted by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics in 2013, across 12 states in over 14,000 households indicated a steady increase in the usage of private healthcare facilities over the last 25 years for both Out Patient and In Patient services, across rural and urban areas.[9]

Following the 2014 election which brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to office, Modi's government unveiled plans for a nationwide universal health care system known as the National Health Assurance Mission, which would provide all citizens with free drugs, diagnostic treatments, and insurance for serious ailments.[10] In 2015, implementation of a universal health care system was delayed due to budgetary concerns.[11]

Rural Health

A community health centre in Kerala.

The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) was launched in April 2005 by the Government of India. The goal of the NRHM was to provide effective healthcare to rural people with a focus on 18 states which have poor public health indicators and/or weak infrastructure.[12] It has 18,000 ambulances and a workforce of 900,000 community health volunteers and 178,000 paid staff.[13]

Only 2% of doctors are in rural areas - where 68% of the population live.[1]

Urban Health

The National Urban Health Mission as a sub-mission of National Health Mission was approved by the Cabinet on 1 May 2013. It aims to meet health care needs of the urban population with the focus on urban poor, by making available to them essential primary health care services and reducing their out of pocket expenses for treatment.[14]

Rapid urbanisation and disparities in urban India:

India’s urban population has increased from 285 million in 2001 to 377 million (31%) in 2011. It is expected to increase to 535 million (38%) by 2026 (4). The United Nations estimates that 875 million people will live in Indian cities and towns by 2050. If urban India were a separate country, it would be the world’s fourth largest country after China, India and the United States of America. According to data from Census 2011, close to 50% of urban dwellers in India live in towns and cities with a population of less than 0.5 million, while the four largest urban agglomerations Greater Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Chennai are home to 15% of India’s urban population.[15]

Child Health, Survival Disparities in Urban India

Analysis of National Family Health Survey Data for 2005-06 (the most recent available dataset for analysis) shows that within India’s urban population – the under-five mortality rate for the poorest quartile eight states, the highest under-five mortality rate in the poorest quartile occurred in UttarPradesh (110 per 1,000 live births), India’s most populous state, which had 44.4million urban dwellers in the 2011 census[16] followed by Rajasthan (102), Madhya Pradesh (98), Jharkhand (90) and Bihar (85), Delhi (74), and Maharashtra (50). The sample for West Bengal was too small for analysis of under-five mortality rate. In Uttar Pradesh was four times that of the rest of the urban populations in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh, the under-five mortality rate among its poorest quartile was more than three times that of the rest of its urban population.[17]

Maternal Health care Disparities in Urban India

Among India’s urban population, one should note the much lower proportion of mothers receiving maternity care among the poorest quartile; only 54 per cent of pregnant women had at least three ante-natal care visits compared to 83 per cent for the rest of the urban population. Less than a quarter of mothers within the poorest quartile received adequate maternity care in Bihar (12 percent), and UttarPradesh (20 percent),and less than half in Madhya Pradesh (38 percent), Delhi (41 percent), Rajasthan (42 percent), and Jharkhand (48 percent). Availing three or more ante-natal check-ups during pregnancy among the poorest quartile was better in West Bengal (71 percent), Maharashtra (73 percent).[17]

High levels of undernutrition among the urban poor

For India’s urban population in 2005–06, 54 percent of children were stunted, and 47 percent underweight in the poorest urban quartile, compared to 33 percent and 26 percent, respectively, for the rest of the urban population. Children under five years being stunted was particularly high among the poorest quartile of the urban populations in Uttar Pradesh (64 percent), Maharashtra (63 percent), Bihar (58 percent), Delhi(58 percent), Madhya Pradesh (55 percent), Rajasthan (53 percent), and slightly better in Jharkhand (49 percent). Evenin the better-performing states close to half of the children under-five were stunted among the poorest quartile, being 48 percent in West Bengal respectively.[17]

High levels of stunted growth and being under-weight for age among the urban poor in India points to repeated infections,depleting the child's nutritional reserves, owing to sub-optimal physical environment. It is also indicative of high levels of food insecurity among this segment of the population. A study carried out in the slums of Delhi showed that 51% of slum families were food insecure.[18]

Quality of healthcare

In major urban areas, the quality of medical care is close to and sometimes exceeds first-world standards. Indian healthcare professionals have the advantage of working in a very biologically active region exposing them to treatment regimens of various kinds of conditions. The quality and amount of experience is arguably unmatched in most other countries. Non-availability of diagnostic tools and increasing reluctance of qualified and experienced healthcare professionals to practice in rural, under-equipped and financially less lucrative rural areas is becoming a big challenge.[19] Rural medical practitioners are highly sought after by residents of rural areas as they are more financially affordable and geographically accessible than practitioners working in the formal public health care sector.[20] But there are incidents were doctors were attacked and even killed in rural India [21] In 2015 the British Medical Journal published a report by Dr Gadre, from Kolkata, exposed the extent of malpractice in the Indian healthcare system. He interviewed 78 doctors and found that kickbacks for referrals, irrational drug prescribing and unnecessary interventions were commonplace.[22]

Private Healthcare

With the help of numerous government subsidies in the 1980s, private health providers entered the market. Opening up of the market in the 90s gave further impetus to the development of the private health sector in India.[23] Most of the healthcare capacity added after 2005 has been in the private sector, or in partnership with the private sector.

Private healthcare providers in India typically offer high quality treatment at reasonable costs. Narayana Health plans to conduct heart operations at a cost of $800 per patient.[24]

See also


  1. 1 2 Britnell, Mark (2015). In Search of the Perfect Health System. London: Palgrave. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-137-49661-4.
  2. 1 2 3 "Catastrophic Health Expenditure and Poor in India: Health Insurance is the Answer?" (PDF).
  4. Puja Mehra. "Only 17% have health insurance cover". The Hindu.
  5. "Modi's ambitious health policy may dwarf Obamacare". Quartz.
  6. George T. Haley; Usha C.V. Haley (2012). "The effects of patent-law changes on innovation: The case of India's pharmaceutical industry". Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 79 (4): 607–619. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2011.05.012.
  7. "Hepatitis C sufferer imports life-saving drugs from India". 20 August 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 International Institute for Population Sciences and Macro International (September 2007). "National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), 2005–06" (PDF). Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. pp. 436–440. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  9. Ramya Kannan (30 July 2013). "More people opting for private healthcare". Chennai, India: The Hindu. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  10. "India's universal healthcare rollout to cost $26 billion".
  11. Aditya Kalra (27 March 2015). "Exclusive: Modi govt puts brakes on India's universal health plan". Reuters India.
  12. Umesh Kapil and Panna Choudhury National Rural Health Mission (NRHM): Will it Make a Difference? Indian Pediatrics Vol. 42 (2005): 783
  13. Britnell, Mark (2015). In Search of the Perfect Health System. London: Palgrave. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-137-49661-4.
  14. "NUHM". Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  15. Agarwal, Siddharth (2014-10-31). "Making the Invisible Visible". Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network.
  16. Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner (2011). Population Census of India 2011 Accessed 9-10-016
  17. 1 2 3 Agarwal, Siddharth (2011-04-01). "The state of urban health in India; comparing the poorest quartile to the rest of the urban population in selected states and cities". Environment and Urbanization. 23 (1): 13–28. doi:10.1177/0956247811398589. ISSN 0956-2478.
  18. Agarwal, Siddharth; Sethi, Vani; Gupta, Palak; Jha, Meenakshi; Agnihotri, Ayushi; Nord, Mark (2009-08-04). "Experiential household food insecurity in an urban underserved slum of North India". Food Security. 1 (3): 239–250. doi:10.1007/s12571-009-0034-y. ISSN 1876-4517.
  19. "India".
  20. Kanjilal, B; et al. (June 2007). "A Parallel Health Care market: Rural Medical Practitioners in West Bengal, India" (PDF). FHS Research Brief. 02. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  21. "Assaults on public hospital staff by patients and their relatives: an inquiry". Indian journal of medical ethics. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
  22. Fox, Hannah (8 April 2015). "I've seen first-hand how palliative care in India is compromised by privatisation". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  23. Baru,Rama V(2010): “Public Sector Doctors in an Era of Commercialisation” in Sheikh and A George(ed)Health Providers in India, on the Frontlines of Change(New Delhi: Routledge)81-96.
  24. Britnell, Mark (2015). In Search of the Perfect Health System. London: Palgrave. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-137-49661-4.
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