Private sector wants to adopt public health bodies

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Tuesday 15 May 2007

Private sector wants to adopt public health bodies

That health care facilities available to the poor are insufficient is common knowledge. According to a recent report of the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (assocham), 1,083 family welfare centres fail to provide health care to the 180 million urban poor, with the shortfall being more for curative care. But why is an industry body totting up health care figures. The report makes it clear why. "Big corporate houses can adopt an urban health centre and provide all necessary medical facilities" and "Pharmaceutical companies could play a part by supplying medicines and other essential items at concessions", are some of its recommendations.

The report suggests that private practitioners should bolster up existing infrastructure. Public-private partnership models can be used and industry can also make this a part of its corporate social responsibility ventures.

But public health experts are sceptical about the move. "The private sector seems to be willing to take over just a few centres thus further deteriorating the public health care system. If industry really wants to help, it should put its money into strengthening the overall public system," says Ritu Priya, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Privatisation has already made inroads in the country's health care system. Patients availing of social insurance programmes--like the Central Government Health Scheme and Employment State Insurance are very often referred to private centres. Through this, public funds are siphoned to the private sector.

assocham's latest bid does make it appear that industry is looking for concessions. It is willing to take over existing centres--meaning free land and physical infrastructure--but its investment is only in the lucrative areas in health care. Ritu Priya explains: "The assocham reports mentions that curative care is worse off, industry still wants to get involved in the existing family welfare centres."

Recently Apollo Hospital in Delhi failed to provide beds and treatment to the poor despite land concessions. An assocham spokesperson, however, says the experience with the big hospitals should not be used to judge private sector involvement in primary health care. "It is just a suggestion by industry and it is up to the government to decide whether it would like to involve the private sector. It could use the services of the private sector in areas where they feel they cannot reach," he adds.

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