Health in India

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The Constitution of India makes health in India the responsibility of the state governments, rather than the central federal government. It makes every state responsible for "raising the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties". The National Health Policy was endorsed by the Parliament of India in 1983 and updated in 2002.[1] The National Health Policy is being worked upon further in 2017 and a draft for public consultation has been released.[2] There are great inequalities in health between states. Infant mortality in Kerala is 12 per thousand live births, but in Assam it is 56.[3]

According to World Bank, the total expenditure on healthcare as a proportion of GDP in 2014 was 4.7%.[4]

Health issues[edit]


Main article: Malnutrition in India

According to a 2005 report, 60% of India’s children below the age of three were malnourished, which was greater than the statistics of sub-Saharan African of 28%.[5] It is considered that one in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India. The estimates varies across the country. It is estimated that Madhya Pradesh has the highest rate of 50% and Kerala the lowest with 27%.[6] Although India’s economy grew 55% from 2001–2006, its child-malnutrition rate only dropped 1%, lagging behind countries of similar growth rate.[7]

Malnutrition can be described as the unhealthy condition that results from not eating enough healthy food.[8]

Child malnutrition[edit]

Infants and preschool children[9]
Condition Prevalence %
Low birth weight 22
Kwashiorkor/Marasmus# <1
Bitot’s spots# 0.8-1.0
Iron deficiency anaemia (6–59 months) 70.0
Underweight (weight for age)* (<5 years)# 42.6
Stunting (height for age)* (<5 years)# 48.0
Wasting (weight for height)*# 20.0
Overweight/obesity 6-30
Condition Unit Males Females
Urban Rural Tribal Urban Rural Tribal
Chronic energy deficiency (BMI <18.5)  % 33.2 40 36.0 49
Anaemia in women  % 75
Iodine deficiency - Goitre millions 54
Iodine deficiency - Cretinism millions 2.2
Iodine deficiency – Still births (includes neo-natal deaths) 90,000
Obesity related chronic diseases (%) 36.0 40.0 7.8 10.9 *2.4 3.2
Hypertension  % 35.0 25 24 35 24 23
Diabetes mellitus (year 2006)  % 16.0 5.0 16 5.0
Coronary heart disease (%) 7–9 3–5 7–9 3–5
Cancer incidence rate per million 11.3 12.3
  • Median 2SD of WHO Child Growth Standards
  1. NNMB Rural Survey, 2005–06; NNMB Tribal Survey, 2008–09

A well-nourished child is one whose weight and height measurements compare very well within the standard normal distribution of heights and weights of healthy children of same age and sex.[10]

Malnutrition impedes the social and cognitive development of a child.[7] These irreversible damages result in lower productivity.[7] As with serious malnutrition, growth delays hinder a child’s intellectual development. Sick children with chronic malnutrition, especially when accompanied by anaemia, often suffer from a lower learning capacity during the crucial first years of attending school.[11] Also, it reduces the immune defence mechanism, which heightens the risk of infections.[6]

Due to their lower social status, girls are far more at risk of malnutrition than boys their age. Partly as a result of this cultural bias, up to one third of all adult women in India are underweight. Inadequate care of these women already underdeveloped, especially during pregnancy, leads them in turn to deliver underweight babies who are vulnerable to further malnutrition and disease.[6]

Forms of malnutrition[edit]

  • Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM), also known as protein-calorie malnutrition
  • Iron deficiency: nutritional anaemia which can lead to lessened productivity, sometimes becoming terminal
  • Vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to blindness or a weakened immune system
  • Iodine deficiency, which can lead to serious mental or physical complaints
  • Foliate deficiency can lead to insufficient birth weight or congenital anomalies such as spina bifida.[11]

High infant mortality rate[edit]

Despite health improvements over the last thirty years, lives continue to be lost to early childhood diseases, inadequate newborn care and childbirth-related causes. More than two million children die every year from preventable infections.[12]

Approximately 1.72 million children die each year before turning one.[13] The under five mortality and infant mortality rates have been declining, from 202 and 190 deaths per thousand live births respectively in 1970 to 64 and 50 deaths per thousand live births in 2009.[13][14] However, this decline is slowing. Reduced funding for immunisation leaves only 43.5% of the young fully immunised.[7] A study conducted by the Future Health Systems Consortium in Murshidabad, West Bengal indicates that barriers to immunisation coverage are adverse geographic location, absent or inadequately trained health workers and low perceived need for immunization.[15] Infrastructure like hospitals, roads, water and sanitation are lacking in rural areas.[16] Shortages of healthcare providers, poor intra-partum and newborn care, diarrheal diseases and acute respiratory infections also contribute to the high infant mortality rate.[13]


Diseases such as dengue fever, hepatitis, tuberculosis, malaria and pneumonia continue to plague India due to increased resistance to drugs.[17] In 2011, India developed a 'totally drug-resistant' form of tuberculosis.[18]

HIV/AIDS in India is ranked third highest among countries with HIV-infected patients. National AIDS Control Organisation, a government 'Apex Body' is making efforts for managing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in India.[19] Diarrheal diseases are the primary causes of early childhood mortality.[20] These diseases can be attributed to poor sanitation and inadequate safe drinking water.[21] India has the world's highest incidence of rabies.

In 2012 India was polio-free for the first time in its history.[22] This was achieved because of the Pulse Polio programme started in 1995–96 by the government.[23]

Indians are at particularly high risk for atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. This may be attributed to a genetic predisposition to metabolic syndrome and adverse changes in coronary artery vasodilation. NGOs such as the Indian Heart Association and the Medwin Foundation were created to raise awareness.[24][25]

Poor sanitation[edit]

As more than 122 million households have no toilets, and 33% lack access to latrines, over 50% of the population (638 million) defecate in the open.(2008 estimate)[26] This is relatively higher than Bangladesh and Brazil (7%) and China (4%).[26] Although 211 million people gained access to improved sanitation from 1990–2008, only 31% use the facilities provided.[26] Only 11% of Indian rural families dispose of stools safely whereas 80% of the population leave their stools in the open or throw them in the garbage.[26] Open air defecation leads to the spread of disease and malnutrition through parasitic and bacterial infections.[27]

Safe drinking water[edit]

Several million more suffer from multiple episodes of diarrhoea and still others fall ill on account of Hepatitis A, enteric fever, intestinal worms and eye and skin infections caused by poor hygiene and unsafe drinking water.[28]

Access to protected sources of drinking water has improved from 68% of the population in 1990 to 88% in 2008.[26] However, only 26% of the slum population has access to safe drinking water,[27] and 25% of the total population has drinking water on their premises.[26] This problem is exacerbated by falling levels of groundwater caused mainly by increasing extraction for irrigation.[26] Insufficient maintenance of the environment around water sources, groundwater pollution, excessive arsenic and fluoride in drinking water pose a major threat to India's health.[26]

Female health issues[edit]

Maternal deaths are similarly high. The reasons for this high mortality are that few women have access to skilled birth attendants and fewer still to quality emergency obstetric care. In addition, only 15 per cent of mothers receive complete antenatal care and only 58 per cent receive iron or folate tablets or syrup.[12] Women's health in India involves numerous issues. Some of them include the following:

  • Malnutrition : The main cause of female malnutrition in India is the tradition requiring women to eat last, even during pregnancy and when they are lactating.[29]
  • Breast Cancer : One of the most severe and increasing problems among women in India, resulting in higher mortality rates.
  • Maternal Mortality : Indian maternal mortality rates in rural areas are one of the highest in the world.[29]

Rural health[edit]

Rural India contains over 68% of India's total population,[30] and half of all residents of rural areas live below the poverty line, struggling for better and easy access to health care and services.[31] Health issues confronted by rural people are many and diverse – from severe malaria to uncontrolled diabetes, from a badly infected wound to cancer.[32] Postpartum maternal illness is a serious problem in resource-poor settings and contributes to maternal mortality, particularly in rural India.[33] A study conducted in 2009 found that 43.9% of mothers reported they experienced postpartum illnesses six weeks after delivery.[34] Furthermore, because of limited government resources, much of the health care provided comes from non profits such as The MINDS Foundation.[35]

Twelfth Five Year Plan[edit]


The Twelfth Five Year plan covering 2012-2017[36] was formulated based on the recommendation of a High Level Experts Group (HLEG) and other stakeholder consultations. The long term objective of this strategy is to establish a system of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in the country. Key points include:

  1. Substantial expansion and strengthening of public sector health care system, freeing the vulnerable population from dependence on high cost and often unreachable private sector health care system.
  2. Health sector expenditure by central government and state government, both plan and non-plan, will have to be substantially increased by the twelfth five-year plan. It was increased from 0.94 per cent of GDP in tenth plan to 1.04 per cent in eleventh plan. The provision of clean drinking water and sanitation as one of the principal factors in control of diseases is well established from the history of industrialised countries and it should have high priority in health related resource allocation. The expenditure on health should increased to 2.5 per cent of GDP by the end of Twelfth Five Year Plan.
  3. Financial and managerial system will be redesigned to ensure efficient utilisation of available resources and achieve better health outcome. Coordinated delivery of services within and across sectors, delegation matched with accountability, fostering a spirit of innovation are some of the measures proposed.
  4. Increasing the cooperation between private and public sector health care providers to achieve health goals. This will include contracting in of services for gap filling, and various forms of effectively regulated and managed Public-Private Partnership, while also ensuring that there is no compromise in terms of standards of delivery and that the incentive structure does not undermine health care objectives.
  5. The present Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) which provides cash less in-patient treatment through an insurance based system should be reformed to enable access to a continuum of comprehensive primary, secondary and tertiary care. In twelfth plan period entire Below Poverty Line(BPL) population will be covered through RSBY scheme. In planning health care structure for the future, it is desirable to move from a 'fee-for-service' mechanism, to address the issue of fragmentation of services that works to the detriment of preventive and primary care and also to reduce the scope of fraud and induced demand.
  6. In order to increase the availability of skilled human resources, a large expansion of medical schools, nursing colleges, and so on, is therefore is necessary and public sector medical schools must play a major role in the process. Special effort will be made to expand medical education in states which are under-served. In addition, a massive effort will be made to recruit and train paramedical and community level health workers.
  7. The multiplicity of Central sector or Centrally Sponsored Schemes has constrained the flexibility of states to make need based plans or deploy their resources in the most efficient manner. The way forward is to focus on strengthening the pillars of the health system, so that it can prevent, detect and manage each of the unique challenges that different parts of the country face.
  8. A series of prescription drugs reforms, promotion of essential, generic medicine and making these universally available free of cost to all patients in public facilities as a part of the Essential Health Package will be a priority.
  9. Effective regulation in medical practice, public health, food and drugs is essential to safeguard people against risks and unethical practices. This is especially so given the information gaps in the health sector which make it difficult for individual to make reasoned choices.
  10. The health system in the Twelfth Plan will continue to have a mix of public and private service providers. The public sector health services need to be strengthened to deliver both public health related and clinical services. The public and private sectors also need to coordinate for the delivery of a continuum of care. A strong regulatory system would supervise the quality of services delivered. Standard treatment guidelines should form the basis of clinical care across public and private sectors, with the adequate monitoring by the regulatory bodies to improve the quality and control the cost of care,


Students educating people about mosquito-borne diseases.

The High Level Expert Group report recommends an increase in public expenditure on health from 1.58 per cent of GDP currently to 2.1 per cent of GDP by the end of the 12th five-year plan. However, even this is far lower than the global median of 5 per cent.[37] The lack of extensive and adequately funded public health services pushes large numbers of people to incur heavy out of pocket expenditures on services purchased from the private sector. Out of pocket expenditures arise even in public sector hospitals, since lack of medicines means that patients have to buy them. This results in a very high financial burden on families in case of severe illness.[38] Though, the 12th plan document express concern over high out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditure, it does not give any target or time frame for reducing this expense . OOP can be reduced only by increasing public expenditure on health and by setting up widespread public health service providers.[39] But the planning commission is planning to do this by regulating private health care providers. It takes solace from the HLEG report which admits that, "the transformation of India’s health system to become an effective platform for UHC is an evolutionary process that will span several years".[40]

Instead of developing a better public health system with enhanced health budget, 12th five-year plan document plans to hand over health care system to private institutions. The 12th plan document causes concern over Rashtriya Swasthya Bhima Yojana being used as a medium to hand over public funds to the private sector through an insurance route. This has also incentivised unnecessary treatment which in due course will increase costs and premiums. There have been complaints about high transaction cost for this scheme due to insurance intermediaries. RSBY does not take into consideration state specific variation in disease profiles and health needs. Even though these things are acknowledged in the report, no alternative remedy is given. There is no reference to nutrition as key component of health and for universal Public Distribution System (PDS) in the plan document or HLEG recommendation. In the section of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in the document, the commitment to provide 30- to 50-bed Community Health Centres (CHC) per lakh population is missing from the main text. It was easy for the government to recruit poor women as ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers but it has failed to bring doctors, nurses and specialist in this area. The ASHA workers who are coming from a poor background are given incentive based on performance. These people lose many days job undertaking their task as ASHA worker which is not incentivised properly. Even the 12th plan doesn't give any solace.[39] To summarise, successive administrative and political reforms have conveniently bypassed training citizens and local bodies to actively participate in healthcare. In a situation where people are not enabled to identify poor quality, speak up and debate. There is dire need for the health system to fill that role on behalf of the people and can be easily done by decentralisation of healthcare governance.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jugal Kishore (2005). National health programs of India: national policies & legislations related to health. Century Publications. ISBN 978-81-88132-13-3. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  2. ^ Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. "Draft National Health Policy 2015". Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Britnell, Mark (2015). In Search of the Perfect Health System. London: Palgrave. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-137-49661-4. 
  4. ^ "Health expenditure, total (% of GDP)". World Bank. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
  5. ^ Rieff, David (11 October 2009). "India's Malnutrition Dilemma". Source: The New York Times 2009. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  6. ^ a b c (
  7. ^ a b c d Robinson, Simon (1 May 2008). "India's Medical Emergency". Source: Time US. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  8. ^ (
  9. ^ Dietary Guidelines for NIN
  10. ^ (
  11. ^ a b "Child malnutrition". 
  12. ^ a b "FAQs – UNICEF". 
  13. ^ a b c "Childhood Mortality and Health in India" (PDF). Source: Institute of Economic Growth University of Delhi Enclave North Campus India by Suresh Sharma. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  14. ^ "Maternal & Child Mortality and Total Fertility Rates" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  15. ^ Kanjilal, Barun; Debjani Barman; Swadhin Mondal; Sneha Singh; Moumita Mukherjee; Arnab Mandal; Nilanjan Bhor (September 2008). "Barriers to access immunisation services: a study in Murshidabad, West Bengal". FHS Research Brief (3). 
  16. ^ "Medical and Healthcare Facility Plagued". Source: Abhinandan S, Dr Ramadoss. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  17. ^ "Dengue". Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention US. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  18. ^ Goldwert, Lindsay. "‘Totally drug-resistant’ tuberculosis reported in India; 12 patients have not responded to TB medication." New York Daily News 16 January 2012.
  19. ^ "HIV/AIDS". Source: UNICEF India. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  20. ^ "Life Expectancy and Mortality in India". Source: The Prajnopaya Foundation. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  21. ^ "Health Conditions". Source: US Library of Congress. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  22. ^ "India marks one year since last polio case." Al Jazeera, 13 January 2012.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Heart Disease is preventable. Indian Heart Foundation. Retrieved on 2012-07-17.
  25. ^ :: Prevent India 2012, 26 Feb ::. Retrieved on 2012-07-17.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h "Water, Environment and Sanitation". Source: UNICEF India. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  27. ^ a b "Initiatives: Hygiene and Sanitation". Source: Sangam Unity in Action. Retrieved 2011-09-20. 
  28. ^ "What We Do – UNICEF". 
  29. ^ a b "Chronic hunger and the status of women in India". 
  30. ^ [1]. Retrieved on 2015-05-06.
  31. ^ Urban Rural Population of India. Retrieved on 2012-07-17.
  32. ^ JSS – The Bitter Truth About Rural Health. Retrieved on 2012-07-17.
  33. ^ Sutherland, T; DM Bishai (2008). "Cost-Effectiveness Of Misoprostol And Prenatal Iron Supplementation As Maternal Mortality Interventions In Home Births In Rural India". Int J of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  34. ^ Tuddenham, S A; et al. (February 2010). "Care seeking for postpartum morbidities in Murshidabad, rural India". Int J of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 109 (3): 245–246. doi:10.1016/j.ijgo.2010.01.016. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  35. ^ "What We Do: Our Purpose". The MINDS Foundation. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  36. ^
  37. ^ Retrieved from The Hindu on 27 July 2013
  38. ^ Retrieved from Planning commission site on 27 July 2013
  39. ^ a b T. K. Rajalakshmi. "Private leaning". Frontline. 
  40. ^ Retrieved from Planning Commission website on 27 July 2013.

External links[edit]