Medical expertise too expensive for masses

A majority of people in India's rural areas still depend on government-run healthcare centres.

While India is attracting a greater number of foreigners to use its health system, the corporatisation of the country's private healthcare sector has reaped limited dividends for a vast swathe of India's 1.2 billion population. Only a minuscule section of India's elite can afford five-star private health care. The majority of people, especially in rural areas, still depend on government-run healthcare centres, of which there is a crippling shortage.

In this vast country, there is only one doctor for every 10,000 people, according to the planning commission. India faces a shortfall of almost 600,000 doctors and about a million nurses. Last year, the planning commission found that in rural healthcare centres, only 45 per cent of gynaecological posts and 53 per cent of paediatric posts were filled. The salary of government doctors is only a fraction of those at private hospitals.

On a recent sweltering afternoon in Pune's government-run Sassoon hospital, with scant medical infrastructure compared with Ruby Hall Clinic, a desperate crowd of patients waited in the outpatient department. In the sweaty waiting room, amid the sickly smell of antiseptic and the tightly packed queues, stood Aradhana Kale, 26, a woman suffering "mentosternal contracture", caused by a serious burn injury that results in the skin of the jaw becoming fused to the chest. She had been to the hospital three times and still had not seen a doctor because of the overcrowding.

"I would go to a private hospital, if I could afford it," she said - a sentiment the vast majority would echo.