Morally indefensible as the deaths of children by a totally preventable disease like dengue is, this represents the abdication by the state of its responsibility to ensure health for all. The practice of private hospitals turning away patients, which resulted in the death of a child afflicted by dengue and the subsequent suicide by his poor parents in Delhi recently, is routine. Complicit in this are governments that allot subsidies and land to the corporate hospitals ostensibly with clauses to accommodate poor patients. In the absence of any monitoring of these clauses, the poor are left to fend for themselves. The queues outside government hospitals are testimony to the stress on the public health infrastructure.
The logic being advanced for only a marginal increase in this year’s health budget (from ₹30,645 crore in 2014-2015 to ₹33,152 crore in 2015-16), on top of the ₹24,000 crore slashed last year, is that the money actually does not get spent. The absorption capacity of a system in terminal decay will be limited, unless the government decides to augment it.
But instead of improving the primary, secondary and tertiary care system, we are told that the State cannot be the provider but only a “guarantor” of universal health, a nuance that accommodates the private sector by channelling public resources into it through the gateway of insurance. In the best health care systems across the world — be it Cuba or Costa Rica, Sweden or Sri Lanka — the state takes care of the health needs of the individual. Whereas here, the spectre of children dying from common diseases will continue to haunt us.