An authoritative international study several years ago pointed out that private spending accounted for a whopping 75 per cent of India’s total expenditure in the health ‘sector.’ Corporate health in the country has come a long way since the WHO came out with its findings, and Kashmir’s medical entrepreneurship is legion (with even a leading Indian practitioner of the art damning Kashmir’s fraternity of the ‘most noble profession’ for the valley’s raging trade in pharmaceuticals, a huge chunk of it spurious.) Given that the Himalayan valley ranks among the highest consumers of pharma drugs, a trend driven mostly by high-profile private practices, the degree of ‘private participation’ in the state’s healthcare should be self-evident. Certainly, Kashmir would leave the Indian average of 75 per cent far behind.
But the real mystery is Jammu and Kashmir’s official figures on health indices. Either Kashmir’s medical fraternity has been blessed by the saints of healing themselves, or else Kashmir’s duped, cheated, and exploited masses have some holy figure watching over their life – not a remote possibility in a region once graced by Sheikh Nooruddin Wali and Lalla Ded. Nothing else explains the miracle of the state actually scoring ahead, if only marginally, of national averages on some important parameters. The state’s infant mortality rate, for instance was 49 as compared to the national average of 53. Similarly, the state was said to have a total fertility rate of 2.2 as against the all-India figure of 2.6. The crude death rate in Jammu and Kashmir was 5.8 compared to the national average of 7.4, and its crude birth rate 18.8 versus India’s average of 22.8.
This magic has been wrought when doctors assigned to rural communities usually avail of sabbaticals courtesy their political patrons, and many well-known doctors remain busy minting millions on unauthorised private practice.
With the state government’s oft-voiced keenness about private sector involvement in healthcare, one wonders if it has bothered to inquire minor matters like whether the private ‘nursing homes’ doing a roaring trade in Srinagar and elsewhere in the valley have mandatory Intensive Care facilities as stipulated by the Medical Council of India. With the state failing to enforce even such elementary guidelines in existing private medical facilities, who can guarantee big-ticket investment in the sector to be aboveboard, or less rapacious.