The state government has announced grants to industries for the establishment of private hospitals in villages. Public health experts and activists fear the move goes against the government’s promise of free healthcare. They demand strengthening of existing rural health infrastructure.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic on rural healthcare, public hospitals have saved the lives of many, say experts. Photo: Unicef India
Twenty seven state-level organisations are to protest tomorrow, July 1, against the recent decision of the Chhattisgarh government to privatise health infrastructure in rural areas.
On June 26, the Chhattisgarh government announced that it would give grants for the establishment of private hospitals in villages. A brochure with the photograph of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel directed the industries to prepare an action plan within 10 days.
The state government’s sudden decision to promote private healthcare in rural areas has received criticism from 27 state-level organisations including non-profits such as Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and Chhhattisgarh Bachao Andolan. They will give a memorandum to the Chief Minister tomorrow.
“We are not happy with this sudden decision. With this, the healthcare in villages will be treated as an industry. We have decided to give a memorandum to the chief minister demanding its rollback,” Deepika Joshi, a member of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a non-profit working for public health rights, Chhattisgarh, told Gaon Connection.
“If you want health resources to be available in rural areas, we have no previous example anywhere in the world where it has happened equitably through the private sector. It is always the public sector that will ensure accessibility, affordability and availability,” Joshi added.
“I don’t know how poor tribal people will be able to afford healthcare in a private set-up,” wondered Joshi, who is also a leading member of the protests.
Considering the COVID19 pandemic, only 40-50 people representing the groups are expected to take part in the protest at Ambedkar Chowk in Raipur, the state capital.
This decision by the state also received criticism from the state health minister TS Singh Deo. He publicly opposed the proposal, and termed the policy ‘inappropriate’.
In a media report, the health minister was quoted as saying that no discussion was held at the cabinet level over this issue. “The policy, if it takes public money to the private sector, which will take money from citizens, is not appropriate. It will be against the concept of free healthcare.” The minister claimed he has always been in favour of the universal health scheme.
In the memorandum, the public health experts and activists from across the state have demanded that the state government increase the health budget, and ensure availability of medicine and necessary equipment. This will assure villagers of free healthcare, they felt.
Besides this, the memorandum also speaks about improving the availability of ambulances, prioritising the admission of local health workers such as nurses and ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwives), encouraging doctors to work in tribal and remote areas; stopping the exploitation of mitanins (women health workers); and monitoring healthcare provided in private hospitals.
Chhattisgarh is a tribal-dominated state. For tribal communities, water, forest and land rights have always been of primary concern. The public health experts and activists believe the government’s proposal will hand over public money and land to the private sector for setting up hospitals.
“Nearly thirty two per cent of the state comprises tribal areas. In the name of setting up hospitals through the private sector, huge tracts of tribal land will be given away at nominal prices. Will specialists sit in remote and Naxalite-affected areas? Doctors in public hospitals do not even show up for work,” Alok Shukla, convenor, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a state-level organisation working for the rights of tribal communities, told Gaon Connection.
“Because of COVID, people are still struggling to manage two square meals. How will they afford such expenses?” asked Shukla.
The memorandum highlighted that despite the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic on rural healthcare, public health hospitals have saved the lives of many.
“We have seen how the private sector has looted patients in the name of healthcare. The only way to provide healthcare in rural areas is to strengthen the public health infrastructure,” reads the memorandum issued by the experts.
Health experts also highlighted that in its election manifesto, the Congress, which now rules the state, had promised to strengthen the public health system to achieve universal health care, unlike the central government’s model of public-private partnership.
“That clarity was there before this government came to power. But, it seems to be changing its decision now. We will continue to oppose it,” said Joshi.