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Rural-Urban Divide

Rural-Urban Divide in Indian Healthcare System

The healthcare industry in India is actively developing. However, there is a significant difference in the quality of healthcare services between rural and urban areas. To begin with, the healthcare infrastructure is mainly concentrated in urban areas, while most of the population in India lives in rural areas. Rural health services in India face a severe crisis, which causes a serious rural-urban divide in healthcare.

The residents of the poorest states have difficulties accessing adequate medical treatment. The shortcomings of the rural healthcare system in India became more evident during the Covid-2019 pandemic.

However, the situation is completely the opposite in urban areas. Most of the private hospitals are here. The private healthcare system in India is evolving quite rapidly. As a result, the growth of private healthcare has boosted medical tourism in India.

Medical tourism in India will reach US$ 42,237.47 million by 2032, according to the report ‘India Tourism Market Outlook (2022-2032)’. The same source reports that Indian medical tourism accounts for around 6.5% of the global market.

India is emerging as a top medical tourism destination in Asia. The relatively low costs and the high standards of Indian healthcare services attract foreign medical tourists to urban healthcare services.

In short, rural healthcare problems widen the rural-urban divide in the Indian healthcare system.

What are the challenges contributing to the rural-urban divide in the healthcare sector in India?

Lack of health literacy

The rural-urban divide in healthcare is linked to the lack of healthcare literacy. The insufficient level of health awareness has a negative impact on access to healthcare.

Living conditions and a low level of education are crucial barriers for rural population. Consequently, they are unaware of their rights and health-related information.

The report of the health literacy published in the e-paper ‘The Tribune’ found that at least 9 out of 10 adults suffer from low health literacy in India.

Shortage of personnel

Rural healthcare in India is dealing with a chronic shortage of personnel, like surgeons, physicians, etc.

Many government programs focus on improving the rural healthcare infrastructure. However, the number of qualified medical practitioners in rural hospitals is still insufficient. So, it creates hardships for accessing quality rural health services in India.

The recent publication ‘Rural Health Statistics’ by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reveals alarming statistics. There were 8,638 vacancies for allopathic doctors in rural sub centers.

Low level of affordability

Rural-Urban divide and rural health services problems in India

Rural health services in India are extremely costly for the rural population.

Many rural hospitals are ill-equipped to treat patients with severe diseases. For this reason, patients are frequently referred to private hospitals.

Private hospitals are extremely expensive for rural population in India. That’s why, most of them might choose the option of alternative medicine.

Private hospitals account for 51.9% of hospitalizations in rural areas, as per the report by the Indian National Survey Office (NSO). Compared to government hospitals, the cost of hospitalization in a private hospital is seven times higher.

Long-distance travel costs

Long-distance travel and accommodation costs are a barrier to better diagnoses and treatment in rural India. It is very common for the rural population to cancel medical treatment due to lack of financial means.

Low penetration of health insurance

Another factor contributing to the rural-urban divide in India is the low penetration of insurance.

Most of the people living in rural areas of India lack health insurance because of low disposable income.

They face difficulties when it comes to bearing the burden of expensive private healthcare facilities. The lack of access to healthcare facilities in remote rural areas of India remains a critical issue.

In rural areas, only 14.1% of Indians have health insurance, according to the National Survey Office (NSO).

There is an urgent need to reform the rural health services in India. It’s vital to enhance the accountability, affordability, and availability of health care.

Key steps to improve the rural-urban divide in Indian healthcare system

Government Initiatives

The Government of India is making efforts to address the low insurance coverage in rural regions.

Among such initiatives is the ‘Ayushman Bharat’ health insurance scheme. It has about 1 crore beneficiaries. Each beneficiary can have access to health insurance up to Rs. 5 lakhs per year. However, more hospitals (private and public) should join this program.

Improving rural healthcare infrastructure

Though public health facilities are available in rural regions of India, the lack of infrastructure is still a crucial problem.

It’s necessary to update the primary healthcare in rural areas to meet patients’ needs.

Leveraging the latest technology in rural healthcare

Using the latest technology in rural healthcare can help bridge the rural-urban divide.

Tech advancements can help provide healthcare services regardless of time or location. However, it is essential to improve broadband access in rural regions of India.

About 70% of the population does not have access to digital services due to poor or no connectivity. These are the findings of the survey ‘Rural Internet Connectivity in India 2021’.

Furthermore, another report by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) revealed interesting statistics. The broadband penetration in urban areas of India is 93%, while in rural India it is only 29.3%.

Various healthcare startups offer innovative technological solutions to enhance the quality of healthcare in rural India.

Docus is also a successful example of how using cutting-edge technologies can improve the rural healthcare in India.

Docus provides an easily accessible, and secure (HIPAA-compliant) platform connecting the world’s best doctors with Indian hospitals.

Using this platform, two doctors can conduct video and written consultations to treat patients with severe diseases. It gives rural Indian patients the opportunity of having access to the most accurate diagnosis and treatment in their local rural hospitals. So, they don’t have to travel long distances to access the most accurate diagnosis and treatment in urban areas.

To conclude, improving rural healthcare in India can bridge the rural-urban divide in health care. Important steps can be the effective implementation of various Government programs, and leveraging technology in rural healthcare.

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