Wednesday, June 29News That Matters

Rev up medical education

Over the past year and a half, the Covid-19 pandemic has starkly highlighted the acute shortage of doctors and other medical professionals in the country. India’s doctor-patient ratio is estimated to be 1:1,500, nowhere near the WHO-prescribed benchmark of 1:1,000. The nationwide number and distribution of medical colleges are also unsatisfactory. In June last year, PM Narendra Modi had stated that the Union Government was working on establishing a medical college or post-graduate medical institute in every district. A lot of work remains to be done to come close to attaining this goal. India currently has 558 medical colleges (289 government and 269 private), whereas the total number of districts is over 740. Against this backdrop, the Centre’s populist decision to reserve 27 per cent seats for OBCs and 10 per cent seats for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in the All-India Quota scheme for undergraduate and postgraduate medical and dental courses won’t help to improve the situation on the ground.

The government is hopeful that the move — expected to benefit around 5,000 students every year — will ‘create a new paradigm of social justice’, while Opposition parties are seeing it as a belated step aimed at achieving electoral gains, particularly in Uttar Pradesh which goes to the polls in early 2022. The primacy being finally accorded to healthcare and medical education can be gauged from the fact that the UP Government is all set to open nine more medical colleges (one each in nine districts). A decent headcount, however, is only half the battle won.

While there is no denying that reservation is a key step towards the uplift of underprivileged sections of society, the Central and state governments must not lose sight of the overarching objective — providing affordable quality healthcare to all citizens. Every nook and cranny of the country needs well-equipped medical colleges that can produce good doctors. Proportionately increasing the student intake should go hand in hand with addressing infrastructural shortcomings in these institutions. And of course, ensuring the affordability of medical education is another challenge that has to be taken up on priority.

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