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Crisis in India's health system: Our children are fated to die because priorities of our Republic have gone awry

By Jitamanyu Sahoo and Syed Mujataba Hussain*
Of the various reasons to emerge from the Gorakhpur catastrophe, perhaps the most horrifying has been the disruption of ‘oxygen supply’ on August 10, the team of Indian Medical Association has confirmed. The horrible deaths of more than 60 children waiting and waiting for oxygen to be piped in mirrors the agony of our Health Care system.

Our health care system has miserably failed our children again. The Gorakhpur incident have followed the same pattern of ordering enquiry, submission of inquiry reports, fixing individual responsibility and payment of compensation to the victims family. This pattern has become a norm in our dysfunctional health care system were the breath of our children is silenced by the structural flaws of our institutions.
The despair and disparity in our medical institutions, marginalises the poor and renders them invisible. The poor’s economic buying power allows them access only to the public health care system where ‘services for poor are earmarked as poor services’. The indifference and coldness to provide standard healthcare service is gripping our public health care institutions. The ideology of care which is a moral and legal obligation has been replaced by contractual engagements.
The Gorakhpur tragedy has brought us back to the question on the role of the State in providing basic curative and preventive care to the public. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta laments that our children are “fated to die because in this republic our priorities have gone awry. The crisis in India’s health system is not the biggest secret in the world”. Pummelling the crisis will certainly assuage our anger of what happened in Gorakhpur. But we need to collectively channel our anger in rooting out the evils that beholds our health care system.
The political chiding over the deaths of innocent children has taken its course as usual. However, charting the intersection of the need for robust healthcare especially among poor and the existence of unequipped and unprepared medical infrastructure meeting this needs have been a peripheral issue. The presence of such unpreparedness as witnessed in the horrors of Gorapkhpur threatens both the State and medical institutions administered by the State.
Even after 70 years of freedom we need to ask where do we stand today. The possibility of viewing and assessing reality through different vantage points is alarming. However, the concept of care needs to be re-articulated to re-think healthcare. The incorporation of care ethics into our systemic functioning of public healthcare institutions would be a step towards redemption.
--
Working as junior legal and research consultants with the National Human Rights Commission. Views are personal

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