SONGSOPTOK: Do you consider primary healthcare to be a fundamental right? Is it deemed as such in the society you live in? Please explain your answer with a few examples if possible.

KOLPITA: Yes, everybody has a right to primary healthcare. In India, there are free healthcare centres in most villages, but I am not sure of the quality. In cities and towns, the middle class dread to be grasped by some deadly disease, which may cost lakhs. I remember a speech made by eminent cardiologist Dr Devi Shetty, who rued that every time he had to tell a mother of a new born or a child with a heart problem about the expenses, he considered it a major failure  after so many years of independence. Because not all mothers can afford to spend so much on healthcare. Having said that, as science and technology improve, so do the medical expenses. There are treatments for almost every ailment, including cancer in its benign stage, but most people can't afford because of the high costs.

SONGSOPTOK: What is the system of healthcare in the country and the society you live in? Is it a just and equitable system in the sense that all citizens enjoy the same benefits across economic and social classes?

KOLPITA: Like I said, when it comes complex treatments, they burn a hole in the pockets of the middle and lower middle class. So it's most advisable to get a health insurance. The government is planning to implement a health cover scheme against a low premium for the economically weaker sections of the society.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that free healthcare cannot be a right, but it can be a privilege and a shared burden of sacrifice for the sake of the social contract?

KOLPITA: Free healthcare is a privilege that everybody should enjoy, more so the economically weaker sections of the society.  The rich can afford to buy health cover with a high premium, so they need not be covered by the government.

SONGSOPTOK: What, in your opinion, should be the role of the government for ensuring equal healthcare to all citizens? What role is played by the government of the country you live in?

KOLPITA: I have mentioned this in my previous answer that the government of India is considering a health care insurance plan for the economically weaker sections of the society as well as for not so well-off retired individuals or couples without dependants. Unfortunately, India is not a country with high social security for individuals.

SONGSOPTOK: According to the data published by World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 16 000 children under the age of 5 die every day in the world (5.9 million in 2015) from infectious, neonatal or nutritional conditions. Is this a reality in the country you live in? If so, what would your suggestions of improvement be?

KOLPITA: Yes, this is a harsh reality in my country. Many children die of malnutrition and other health-related diseases.  Lack of sanitation, clean drinking water and absence of good nutrition claim the lives of million children in our country. There has to be a nutrition programme, where children will be provided with food that will help them develop their brain and body. The government should see to it that living conditions of the poor are improved to keep a check on their primary health condition. Healthcare officials should conduct a monthly check-up of these children to ensure their well being.

SONGSOPTOK: “Free access to healthcare is a fundamental human right. Access to free healthcare is not” – do you agree with this statement? Please explain your choice.

KOLPITA: I believe the poor  should have access to free healthcare. Those who can afford should pay for it. But yes, everybody ought to have free access to healthcare. Doctors and hospitals should be just and cooperate with each patient.

SONGSOPTOK: How important is the role of the private sector for providing healthcare and related facilities in your country? What it is your opinion about it?

KOLPITA: The private sector in our country has invested heavily into healthcare. The purpose being it sees the healthcare industry booming in India. So patients have to dole out a hefty amount to avail treatment. Now here enter the private insurance companies. As healthcare goes expensive, the premium also gets costly also with increase in age.

SONGSOPTOK: Are charitable and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) active in the domain of public health? If yes, then in what spheres? Do you think that the civil society, either independently or through these organizations, should become the prime actor for ensuring healthcare for all?

KOLPITA: I am not sure if NGOs play a primary role in promoting healthcare. But individuals can play a small role by investing in premium for those unable to afford. Start with your domestic help. Take her or him to the nearby clinic for check-ups or pay for a treatment that's costly. For this to happen, we must have adequate awareness.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that multinational pharmaceutical and healthcare companies are responsible, to a certain extent, for the widely variable quality of healthcare in different countries? Can you please illustrate your reply with some examples?

KOLPITA: Multinational pharmaceutical companies have drugs that are often expensive, which is beyond the reach of most people. Hence, there are generic versions of these drugs in countries such as India, which ensures cheaper treatments for those who need the most. But, I am not sure if the quality is compromised here. You must understand that research and development is an expensive affair. So multinational pharmaceutical companies cannot keep the price of drugs low. In that case, they will have to compromise on the quality of R&D. Hence, generics should be made reliable so that everybody can afford them.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that adopting the Social Security model implemented in a lot of countries in Europe which ensures primary health coverage to all citizens and is financed by the totality of the working population can be relevant and efficient in all countries?

KOLPITA: Of course it can. India should have a social security plan in place. But again, India is a country with a vast population. I am sure in the next 20 years, we too will have a social security scheme, covering every citizen. The implementation of Aadhaar, or the unique identification system, is a step towards that.

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope we shall have your continued support.
Aparajita Sen
(Editor: Songsoptok)


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