Ranjona Banerji: In 2017, are you broke or broken?
A year since the note ban, apathy and neglect continue to plague our medical system. But, there's no one to foot the bill for the destruction
You reach a certain stage in life and healthcare is everyone's top concern. I read in the papers that a subsidiary of AIIMS in Rishikesh charges exorbitant rates for most medical services - the very opposite of AIIMS, Delhi. Until people protest and newspapers report on the protest. When my parents moved to Dehradun 20 years ago, it had good doctors and very bad medical services and hospitals. Those who could afford it went to Delhi and the rest just suffered.
At least 30 children died within 48 hours at Gorakhpur's Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College Hospital, as parents complained of negligent treatment. File pic
Life is better today, but not much. I hear a story about an abandoned girl in the main government hospital. She has one leg affected by polio and an injury on the other. Her mother tried some mumbo-jumbo treatment, where a burning piece of wood was tied to her leg. Imagine the effects of that. Subsequently, her father dumped her at the hospital and never returned. She lay there for months until an NGO intervened and rescued her. But, how far can one blame the government hospital? There's one nurse and one thermometer for some 75 patients, apparently. What sort of healthcare can anyone expect?
The deaths of children at the BRD Hospital in Gorakhpur angered us all - for a while, until we moved on to other things. The culprit - regardless of who was arrested - is administrative and official neglect, apathy and disregard. No government wants to spend substantial money on healthcare (or primary and secondary education either, if it comes to that). The cost of healthcare for the private citizen can be prohibitive and destructive. Life is marginally easier if you have medical insurance, but not always, because you can fall into another racket.
Recently, my father had a cataract operation at a newish hospital, part of a group owned by a Union minister. There we met a man who had been mauled by a bear while he was out grazing his livestock. Apart from other injuries, his whole face was ripped off. After a couple of months in intensive care and after extensive plastic surgery, he is being released from hospital. But his biggest problem now is the medical bill of R9 lakh. Try and imagine, if you can, what that means to a herder in a remote village of Uttarakhand.
In my small brush with cancer a couple of years ago, I underwent radiotherapy at a trust hospital in Dehradun, set up by a forward-thinking swami, who wanted to give back to his home state. When the hospital acquired its linear accelerators 10 years ago, it was the only facility available in the state and in surrounding areas. Some 100 people a day came for treatment from Uttar Pradesh and even the outskirts of New Delhi. I am, now, happy to hear that AIIMS Rishikesh also provides radiotherapy and, since the protest, at reasonable rates or even free. And yet I know doctors who have begged the authorities to allow them to conduct free cancer camps in the hills, only to be met with obstruction and disinterest.
One constantly hears about the dangers of cancer and lots of hand-wringing and major publicity campaigns surface on cancer awareness days, but when it comes to actual facilities on the ground, the story is dismal, abysmal and criminal. Sometimes, it's just a question of luck. The right doctor, the right hospital whether government or private, the right advice and you go through the process more easily than the millions of others who are undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and neglected.
The plethora of private hospitals may have made access easier, but their pricing policies can make them prohibitive. The lack of trust for government facilities - no matter how good some of them are - make people flock to private healthcare centres and, then, struggle with bills and insurance claims.
As we approach one year of the demonic imposition of the destruction of the Indian currency, my mind goes back to my mother in hospital soon after. It is bad enough to deal with the physical, emotional and mental burden that the illness of a loved one brings. Add to that the impossibility of access to your own money to pay for treatment, and the end effect was unbearably painful.
The hospital was full of people who had come from far and wide, away from home and their support systems, running around trying to organise money and healthcare.
And, now, think about politicians laughing about the effects of demonetisation and focusing on cows as babies die.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org