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Women Talk Online

A forum for women to talk to women

Health is wealth

It is rightly said that “Health is wealth.” Without it, everything seems less important and futile. India is a rapidly developing country, but its health care system is still ailing and struggling to stand on its feet. Women Talk Online blogger Isra Bhat spoke to the Chief Executive Officer of the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), Mr. Alok Mukhopadhyay, and tried to find out about the key steps that can be taken to make the health sector of India better and reliable.

Isra Bhat: India is a fast developing country but at the same time its health sector is a complete wreck. What according to you should be the basic approach to tackle the problem of health in India?

Alok Mukhopadhyay: There are some important things which need to be done to tackle the problem. One is that the rational attitude towards health is missing. Quite often, people do things which are not logical or scientific. The basic health literacy among people is too little and this should be improved. Literacy through seminars, meetings and village level discussions can play a great role in informing people about health concerns.

In our country, television has a great place in the lives of the common masses. We can make use of national channels like Doordarshan and Bollywood movies which have a great reach in terms of audience. If the message goes through this medium, it is quiet acceptable to people compared to other means. It can prove to be the most successful mode in imparting health education to people.

You mentioned the potential role of television in the health sector. How can the media propagate health education in the country?

I think that the media is already doing this job. Our system is vague, quite often an epidemic doesn’t get reported by the health organizations but media channels do report. So, they are playing their part, but I think they can play a more definite role by doing health promotion. We all know that smoking and tobacco chewing are a big problem in India. India has thousands of oral cancer cases every year. The media can play an excellent role in ensuring that people understand the implication of chewing tobacco or smoking cigarettes. This will go a long way in preventing the huge cost to health for people who  spend a lot of money for the treatment of such chronic diseases.

It is not that India is a poor country which cannot afford the necessary funds to be spent on its health sector. What could then be the reasons for neglecting this particular sector?

India’s investment in the health sector is the least in all of Asia and even lesser than countries like Myanmar. Investment is very necessary to boost the health system of a particular nation. There are some of the states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala where  health facilities are good but states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh still have a large number of poor people. Illiteracy is very high and the status of women is low. If a woman’s status doesn’t improve, one cannot expect much. If the girls of a nation are married at the age of 15, what development can be expected?

What is your take on the major medical error which took place in West Bengal where wrong medication resulted in the hospitalization of around a hundred children? What image this portrays about the health sector of India to its people?

It’s a very sad incident particularly because the first medical college in Asia was set up in India fifty years before the first medical college was set up in China. This makes me sad. Coming to this incident, there is a certain planned procedure to carry out important immunization and vaccination events. People who are economically deprived go to public sector hospitals and we have a very callous public sector where at times heath professionals are not accountable and very often unavailable. This can be one of the reasons which led to such a grave mistake. Everything should go as per proper planning but nothing such happens in our country. We lack efficient planning.

What needs to be done to avoid such blunders in the coming future?                                                                           

We need to work very hard to improve our health sector. Every department should have adequate human resources and be accountable to people.  We also need to ensure that no overcrowding should take place in any hospital, clinic or any other department where such medical procedures are being carried out.  The financial resources should be four times compared to what they are today. We need more and more investments in this very sector. There should be a strong governing body that can strictly monitor such kind of activities. And the people who are found responsible in such issues should be dealt with strict laws and punishment. If we are successful in doing these things there is much less chance of such grave mistakes in future.

Your organization has  done a lot of work in the rural areas of India. What has been the response from those areas regarding health awareness?  Was the degree of acceptance good or did they reject modern health education?

India is a young nation, a large percentage of people are young. So the rate of acceptance is high as the youth is open to new things. They are quite open-minded in adopting new things and ways of living. For older people, acceptance becomes difficult because of their beliefs and their faith. This can be a major hurdle in improving India’s health system.

After working for so many years in this sector, what according to you is the future of the Indian health system?

From my experience I can say that there is gradual improvement but health is something which cannot wait. It has been more than 60 years since the country got freedom and there is no excuse why this sector is lagging behind. Credible healthcare should be provided to the citizens of any nation and that is their primary right. Quality heathcare at reasonable cost should be made available to both public and private consumers.

Interview: Isra Bhat

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

Isra Bhat is a research scholar at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar. She has been awarded a two-month long fellowship by the Friedrich Ebert foundation (FES) in Germany and is currently in DW, Bonn. You can get in touch with Isra at


02.10.2013 | 12:39