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Health Care for the Underprivileged

Submitted by on July 17, 2012 – 1:43 PM

My first brush with the public health field came in the second year of medical school, when we were appointed to work in the Pulse Polio program. Since we were taught Community Medicine as part of our curriculum, it was a wonderful opportunity to get some valuable field experience. That was when I first saw where my country was headed, at least health wise. I faced many problems in convincing people to administer the polio vaccine to their children, mainly because of their beliefs and prejudices.

I realized then that I was just witnessing the tip of the iceberg, and that these hurdles would have to be overcome if polio was to be eradicated from India. If this was the situation in a fairly progressive country like India, what would it be like in places like Africa and Afghanistan? I was fascinated by this field experience, and in the final year of medical school, I volunteered to work as a monitor in the Pulse Polio Program. This time, I got an opportunity to monitor the activities of various volunteers who were working in the field, to see if proper procedures were being followed by the health staff.

During my medical internship training, I was posted in a rural dispensary. During this period, I saw people suffering from diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis and Iron-deficiency anemia. I also saw children suffering from illnesses due to malnutrition, like Marasmus and Kwashiorkor. It made me realize that many of these diseases could have been prevented, had these people not been ignorant, and that much needs to be done in order to spread awareness about everyday health matters.


In recent times, there have been many outbreaks of several deadly diseases in India. Some years back, there was an epidemic of Bubonic Plague in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Just recently, in 2006, there was another outbreak, this time of Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Fever. Several people have lost their lives because of these epidemics. In India’s premier medical institution, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, a young doctor succumbed to Dengue Fever during the recent outbreak. The cause of this tragedy was that the hospital authorities neglected to keep the campus clean. In the sewers and dustbins on campus, mosquitoes were allowed to breed unchecked.


The arrival of India among leading nations of the world as an intellectual and knowledge hub brings with it tremendous responsibilities – and one of these is to ensure the health of its masses. It is extremely important to support and engage the community we live in. This is as true of India as it is for other thickly populated/less developed/poor nations of the world. This calls for a comprehensive understanding of the politics, economics, demography, sociology and ethics of health-care worldwide.


It’s all very well to provide world-class healthcare facilities in elite hospitals. But the prohibitive costs in these hospitals make them accessible only to a miniscule, privileged section of society, especially in a country like India.


About the author:

Karan Gupta is a trained physician with clinical experience in a wide range of infectious diseases, especially of the developing world. He holds a Master’s degree in Global Health from the Harvard School of Public Health.  The author has also been involved in various project surveys and evaluation studies including work at The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Centre (BRAC), where he studied the impact of microfinance initiatives on improvement of living standards in rural agrarian societies.


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