By: Keyur Seta
The ever-increasing medical cost is fast becoming a big reason for increasing number of deaths currently in India. Sundari Raju lost her husband due to the same reason. After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, his troubles started increasing and with that, his medical bills too. “There came a time when he was required to take four injections per month and each cost Rs 8,000. So it was impossible for us to afford it. I wish I could have afforded. He would have been alive then,” she said.
She was speaking on the occasion of Patient Solidarity Day in Mumbai, where doctors, patients, members of patient groups, pharmacists, bloggers and laymen had assembled for a round table discussion on how to provide proper access to healthcare for all patients across India. The event was organized through the efforts of Dr Bejon Misra, Partnerships for Safe Medicines (PSM) India, Consumer Online Foundation and International Alliance of Patients’ Organization (IAPO).
When it comes to the high cost of medicines and treatment, the mention of multinational companies, which manufactures medicines, shouldn’t come as a surprise. “MNCs are here to make money. Philanthropy is not their goal; it will never be. Government wants to do something about this. But they won’t unless we and various NGOs keep pushing. They also have to listen to courts so we should use that option too. Medical Council of India can also help,” said Dr Salunke.
Another doctor present at the discussion raised the point of new doctors forced to recover the enormous amount they spent to study medicine. “People spend around Rs 1 crore in private medical colleges. So obviously they won’t do any social service. Government also keeps spending more on private colleges rather than government run colleges. The ratio of both types of colleges is very high in favor of private colleges.” He also stressed on the need for qualified nurses, who can take away half of the headache of the doctor.
India has also become home to diseases like Fibromyalgia. Anuradha Khanna Pentapalli, who is suffering from it, expressed the need to spread awareness about it as hardly anyone in India knows about it. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculo-skeletal pain, stiffness and tenderness of muscles and joints and also psychological issues. “Today I am at this event. So tomorrow or day after I might have to take bed rest. There are cases where parents ask their daughters to be active despite being diagnosed with the disease and not disclose it to their prospective grooms. But the daughters don’t wish to lie. There is an urgent need to include study of Fibromyalgia in medical curriculum,” said Anuradha and her demand was agreed upon by Dr Misra.
Since recent times, there has been a constant demand of making generic medicines available to patients as their cost is much lower. “Generic medicines are available in Tamil Nadu. So if they can be made available in TN, why not in Maharashtra? Our ex-Health Minister Suresh Shetty also didn’t do anything for this in 10 years,” continued Salunke. Dr Jahangir also echoed his sentiments and expressed bewilderment at some doctors criticizing it. “I can’t believe a doctor criticizing generic medicines. Rather than letting a patient die, let him get treatment.”
The situation in rural areas was also described. Said Dr Ketan Parekh, “Twenty percent districts in Maharashtra don’t have a pediatric surgeon, whereas 2% of all new born babies require immediate surgery. A list of 80 doctors, who were willing to volunteer, was given to the government. But there was no response.” Salunke also added an incident he witnessed at a village. “A doctor was giving just 1 cc injection dose to patients. When I asked him the reason for giving such a tiny dose, he said they have just one bottle of dose and the number of patients is 35.”
This wasn’t one of those events where people would discuss and then just disperse. Dr Bejon Misra announced and assured that the discussion will be followed by action. “We will collect evidences and each one present in this room (for discussion) will come together to make sure our voice reaches to the people in power. If they don’t listen, we will be compelled to go to courts. Universal healthcare should become a reality and not just remain a dream.”
More pictures from the discussion: