India failing to meet 2030 Universal Health Coverage goal

India is counted amongst the 194 countries that are aiming to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030, which is part of the UN’s commitment to achieve Sustainable Development  Goals (SDGs) worldwide. The core principals of UHC include access to quality essential health care services, access to safe and effective medication and vaccines and financial risk protection. However, judging by the parameters set by the World Health Organization (WHO), who are tracking progress made by these countries towards achieving UHC, India still has a long way to go before this will seem like an achievable goal.

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Highest death rate from childbirth

The first parameter set by the WHO focuses on maternal, reproductive and child health. Less than half of all pregnant women in India receive the appropriate amount of antenatal care and less than 20% are able to see a doctor. Worst of all, one woman dies every 12 minutes from pregnancy related complications in India. Infant mortality rates are still quite high, as roughly 5% of infants don’t make it past the age of 5, the biggest killers being pneumonia and diarrhea.

Lowest government spending on health

Only 40% of the Indian population currently has access to improved sanitation, which is hindering the country’s ability to tackle infectious diseases; which is the second parameter that the WHO has set for developing countries. The amount the Indian government spends on prevention and control of communicable diseases is only 1.4% of the yearly budget, which leaves a lot of room for improvement considering India has one of the highest rates of TB cases in all of Southeast Asia.

One doctor for 1700 people

On top of the high number of cases of infectious diseases, instances of non-communicable diseases are also on the rise, and are estimated to surmise 75% of India’s health burden by 2025. This is down to an increase in poor diets and lifestyle choices, and insufficient education and advice from the government about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

There is also a lack of basic hospital facilities in many parts of the country and often fails to comply with many international health regulations. These factors make India also a long way off from meeting the final two WHO parameters: tackling the burden of noncommunicable diseases and having sufficient access to health services.

The healthcare investment in India seems to be stuck in a catch-22 type scenario; the Indian government continues to decrease health funding due to economic problems, yet experts warn that failing to invest more in health is actually harming the economy, as India currently loses 6% of it’s GDP as a result of premature deaths and preventable illnesses. Therefore if the Indian government really wants to show it’s serious about achieving Universal Health Coverage, it needs to take a step back and look at the bigger economic picture instead of focusing on more short-term solutions.

Image: DFID