Advanced medical facilities in cities mushroom as healthcare available in villages languish.

There are gigantic inequalities in access to healthcare, which are also a contributor to poor health, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said here on Saturday.

Professor Sen also referred to the work done by human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen among tribals in India as an indicator of the vast inequalities present.

“There is gigantic inequality and one of the things that we have been arguing about is that inequality is not only bad distribution of the overall health benefits, but it also reduces the overall health benefit,” Professor Sen said at an event organised by Pratichi Institute, the research arm of the Pratichi (India) Trust, which was set up with the Nobel Prize money of the renowned economist.

He was responding to a question on the mushrooming of advanced medical facilities in our cities even as the healthcare in villages is found wanting.

“I am not one of those who argue that one must not allow highly expensive and good hospitals to come up. The political reasoning is from the other end, namely, what can we do for those who are most underserved in terms of medical benefits,” he said.

One of the reasons why Dr. Binayak Sen was admired so much was because he was among those doctors in the country who have a priority of looking after people with the greatest need, irrespective of whether they have money or not. His case also points out that even compared to the non-tribal poor, the tribals often do much worse, Professor Sen said.

Asked if he thought that health was a political issue, he concurred, emphasising that the aim of better policy-making in healthcare could only be achieved if it came from the government, which is certainly a matter of politics.

“We must think of it as a political issue, connected to responsibilities of government on the one side and the responsibilities of the people on the other, exerting whatever influence we can on policy-making,” he said.