Loksatta founder Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan is participating as a special invitee in a High Level Round Table Discussion in Delhi on 24 May 2016, organised under the auspices of Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in Hotel Taj Mahal, Man Singh Road, New Delhi.
Politicians with expert knowledge on health related aspects, senior journalists, health professionals, and psephologists with insights in voter preferences will be participating in the Round Table, chaired by Sasi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, Lok sabha. Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan is invited as a specialist to share his vast experience in politics, health administration and his pioneering work in formulating policies for systemic reforms in various aspects of governance.
The Round Table will be broadly discussing as to why public health is not a pressing political and electoral issue in India. After all, the country is torn between the dichotomous challenge of a youth bulge and an increasingly aging population. While a large section of the country suffers from malnutrition, an equally significant section is experiencing a spurt in non-communicable diseases like obesity ushered in by the changes associated with an urban lifestyle. These challenges are further exacerbated by distinct gaps India’s health system. Childhood diseases, including vaccine-preventable ones, are not just big killers in India but severely impair our demographic dividend. In terms of health care provision, poor access, particularly in rural areas, lack of trained medical professionals and high out-of- pocket costs feature as major impediments. Despite the magnitude of India’s public health challenge, healthcare does not feature prominently in political and policy discourses.
On the one hand, government spending in and policy attention to public health has been rising appreciably in the past decade, using frameworks such as the National Health Mission and the Mission Indradhanush immunisation programme. On the other, healthcare still remains absent from political discourse and election campaigns. What could explain this?
Is it because voters don’t see health as a public issue and are comfortable with regarding it as a private burden? Is it because politicians and candidates either evade public health, in pursuit of other, more compelling election and voter hooks? Is it because voters don’t question or pressure candidates on health? Or do they so in an indirect manner, raising ancillary concerns that parties and candidates, and the media, don’t immediately connect with public health?