Kerala achieved great strides in healthcare in the past, with the state recording major gains in indices such as infant mortality rate, birth rate and life expectancy at birth etc. But time has come to take a relook at the way in which healthcare is delivered in the state. While we are still doing well when it comes to cure, a major area where we are beginning to falter is prevention of diseases.
The lapses, I would say, began to happen after the merger of the Public Health Department with the Directorate of Health Services. This has made the same doctors responsible for cure as well as prevention. It doesn’t always work well this way. Doctors generally are more interested in cure than prevention: they get to handle more interesting cases, for instance. Then you have pharmaceutical companies and investigating labs and scanning centers that are also more interested in the aspect of cure for obvious reasons. Except for vaccine makers, few have interest in prevention, unfortunately.
The flipside of this is emerging now. Even in vaccination, our record is coming down. There is also opposition to vaccination in some parts of Kerala from religious groups. There has been opposition to Rubella vaccine from many quarters in the state, including a section of media. Babies born to mothers who were exposed to the Rubella virus during pregnancy can have severe congenital deformities. But administering the vaccine in girls has immensely helped in bringing down disabilities in children.
We are also being gripped by a number of lifestyle diseases. This can be effectively prevented by stepping up campaigns in schools, colleges and among general public. The impact of sustained campaigning against smoking is evident now, as public smoking has almost vanished from our state. We need to now embark upon a similar campaign against junk food and for healthy habits. For instance, we need to drive home the point that drinking boiled, filtered water is a much safer option than consuming bottled water, where we aren’t sure about the plastic quality. I would say the Indian Medical Association should spearhead campaigns for better health, and the government should fund it. The money spent on such an initiative will eventually help bring down the overall cost of treatments the state incurs.
Reverting to the old system of two separate supervisory bodies for protection and cure is a more effective way of tackling our present problems. Having two different groups will avoid conflict of interests and improve supervision. There are a large number of doctors and public health professionals who are interested to stay focused on prevention of diseases. They will be only too happy to be a part of this.
The need is to set up a separate Health Protection Agency.
(Photo credit: Sanofi Pasteur via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Vaccine via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA)