Despite health insurance programmes like Ayushman Bharat which offer financial protection to 10.74 crore deprived rural families, India is lagging far behind developed countries in health care, according to M Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President.

The Vice-President decried the shortage of trained doctors and dearth of medical colleges in the country. He made this observations while inaugurating modern facilities in a corporate hospital in Chennai on Monday. According to Naidu, the inadequate number of physicians available per 10,000 people in India was an area of concern  when compared to developed countries.

“While the number of physicians available is 20 per 10,000 population in developed countries , it is only six in India. As against the World Health Organisation norm of one doctor per 1,000, there is one doctor per 1,700 population in India,” pointed out Naidu.

He said that in order to reach the target set by the WHO, a high level committee of the erstwhile Planning Commission (known now as NITI Ayog) has recommended the setting up of 187 more medical colleges by 2022.

The Vice-President also pointed out that 62.58 per cent of the population in the country meet medical and hospitalisation expenses on their own. He attributed this to the low penetration of medical insurance and shortage of doctors.

“One of the biggest challenges in building a comprehensive healthcare system is the existence of huge disparity between urban and rural areas. No doubt, healthcare has been accorded utmost priority by successive governments since Independence. But many challenges on this front continue to be formidable. They include low public spend, low doctor-patient ratio, low patient-bed ratio, rising out-of-pocket expenditure, dearth of medical colleges and trained doctors, inadequate infrastructure in rural areas, lack of penetration of health insurance and inadequate disease surveillance and preventive mechanisms,” said Naidu.

He had called for a law that makes rural practice mandatory for all doctors. “Doctors should set up practices in rural areas. The Centre and State governments must make a rule that whichever doctor, who graduates or completes post graduation , after working for sometime, they must also work in the rural areas before they get their first promotion,” Naidu said on Sunday while inaugurating another corporate hospital in the city. He also called for wider health insurance coverage in the country.

The statistics disclosed by the Vice-President substantiates the scenario in India’s health sector explained by G Viswanathan, chancellor, VIT University in 2012. “We require 12 lakh doctors and 36 lakh nurses to satisfy WHO norms. To fulfill the WHO norms we may take decades if we expand in the snail speed,” Viswanathan had said during the convocation ceremony of VIT.

Dr GR Raveendranath, general secretary, Doctors Association for Social Equality (DASE), a frontal organisation of the CPI, has been suggesting that it is possible to increase the number of medical colleges in the country without any hassle. “All we have to do is to convert the General Hospitals in the district headquarters into medical colleges. It is a win-win situation for all stake holders because the infrastructure is already there. The up-gradation of the hospitals into medical colleges will increase the facilities without much costs,” said Dr Raveendranath.