The land of unwanted advisers
“If in the US, we have one doctor for, say, 1,000 patients, you in India have 1,000 doctors for one patient”, my cousin said to me the other day. A. Lal, a US resident of over five decades, was on a short visit to his native home in India. When he made the seemingly innocuous statement, he wore an innocent look and sounded serious. But I was stunned as well as amused. “Yes, I mean it” my cousin insisted, finding me doubting his assertion. “Don’t go by the figures. In reality, such a situation exists here”, he averred.
Even though he was speaking metaphorically, I concurred, telling him that he was right. I knew what he was driving at. We were meeting after a long time. On such impromptu occasions one likes to discuss everything under the sun. But for senior citizens, can there be a better subject other than the state of their own health and the general well-being of their near and dear ones — and as a natural corollary of society as a whole?
So, quite naturally, we touched upon the state of medical services in India vis-a-vis Medicare in the US. For my cousin’s Indian wife, being a medical graduate from Lucknow’s eminent college, the subject was close to his heart.
Lal noted painfully that even after 69 years of independence, even basic health services were not available to the poor masses in the country of his birth. Treatment in state-run hospitals was inadequate. Proper care was the exclusive preserve of the rich and the resourceful, including the political class. Many of them do rush to other countries for ailments which could be taken care of at home. For many, the treatment is unaffordable. In the countryside many die undiagnosed.
The upshot of my cousin’s observation during the period of his stay, to quote his words, was that “every second person here is a doctor. At that rate, there would be 1,000 doctors for one patient.”
Doctors at every turn
Based on his pre-migration and current experiences, Lal said: “You name a health problem, including the most dreaded one, and you will attract half-a-dozen bystanders to advise you on how to cure it. Someone will tell you that his aunt, suffering from the same disease, got completely cured.” You get free advice.
Having severe cough, breathlessness or any such bronchial problem? Tell the man at the chemist shop counter and walk away with a cough syrup of his choice. My cousin was unrelenting. “Just for the fun of it, spend a minute or two at some shop vending cigarettes or snacks. Tell the vendor to pack your stuff quickly because you have to rush home to attend to your wife who is down with fever and some other complication’s for the last 10 days or so. Make sure that you are heard by bystanders around you.”
“I am sure that one of them will scream. ‘Ten days! You mean she is down with fever for so long and you are doing nothing!’ You pretend to feel guilty. The man will ask a couple of questions and then tell you that it was no ailment. ‘Just sponge her body with ice cold towel two-three times a day and she will be all right. Sir, these things do happen in life. You need not worry’.” Someone else might butt in. “Arre Bhai Saheb [brother], don’t do that. And don’t go to any doctor either. He will charge a hefty fee and will only spoil the case. You just give her a herbal concoction. Note down its ingredients and in three days, she will be back in the kitchen.”
Concurring with his findings, I told him that you name any problem — respiratory issues, common cold, even whooping cough, eye infections, ear ache, dental problems, indigestion, joints pain, boils and a horde of other afflictions —and you will get free medical advice from one or more wayside “doctors”. If you don’t get relief, you will be told that you may not have followed the “prescribed treatment” properly.
I brought the discussion to an end by telling Lal that we need not compare our conditions with any developed country. It’s true that we have to go a long way to even ensure a reasonable level of medicare to our people in a set up where insensitivity, corruption, pilferage, vast poverty and lack of will to improve things hold sway.
Our ever growing population alone is the biggest impeding factor which is negating all our pious intentions and efforts.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.