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Vajpayee hits out at high cost of medicare

By A. Jayaram

BANGALORE, JAN. 19. The Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee, today hit out at the high cost of medical care in private hospitals and remarked that often making money appeared to overtake healing the patient in those institutions.

He was inaugurating the superspeciality Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, built at a cost of Rs. 64 crores at the Export Promotion Industrial Park at Whitefield near here. The 333-bed hospital built by Sri Sathya Sai Baba will provide all services free to the patients and their families. The function was attended by three Chief Ministers, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh (Maharashtra), Mr. Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh) and Mr. S.M. Krishna (Karnataka).

Praising Sri Sai Baba's latest project, the Prime Minister said the hospital was unique as it had made it possible for the poor to get the same five-star healthcare as the rich were getting. ``There are many private hospitals in our big cities, whose doors are closed even to the middle class. The rich too will be a good deal poorer in the wallet when they take treatment from these hospitals''. By setting up the hospital, Baba had shown that just as the doors of a temple did not recognise the feet of a rich or a poor man, so too should a good hospital offer its services to all those who needed them.

Mr. Vajpayee said that despite the allocation of vast resources by the Centre and the States, government hospitals and dispensaries were still unable to meet the needs of many Indians. ``A majority of our people are forced to turn to private doctors and private hospitals, where making money often comes before healing. No wonder, for the poor, healthcare accounts for among the largest chunks of their meagre family budget''. The Prime Minister admitted that the present healthcare system in the country was a far cry from the ideal. India still had only about five hospital beds for a population of 1,000. There were also only six or seven physicians for 1,000 people. As a result, a majority of the people were served by practitioners of traditional medicine or those inadequately trained. Nearly seven lakh children died every year owing to diarrhea, which was easily preventable. More than half of pregnant and lactating women were anaemic. About 30 per cent of the babies born were of low weight.

At the same time, the Prime Minister said, the Government wanted to encourage more private sector investment in secondary and tertiary healthcare. Private practitioners and hospitals should also carry a significant share of the burden of public healthcare. The task of providing quality healthcare to one billion people was by no means easy. As it was not affordable to depend on the curative approach, the country should promote preventive and community-based healthcare. Even the rich countries were finding it difficult to sustain their expensive healthcare systems.

The Chief Minister, Mr. S.M. Krishna, praised Sri Sai Baba for providing a modern healthcare facility to Karnataka. Bangalore had become the second home for the Baba. Commending Sathya Sai authorities for building the hospital in a record time of one year, Mr. Krishna noted that the State Government had not been able to upgrade one of it major hospitals despite a saga of eight years. The Baba should take over that hospital, he suggested in a lighter vein.

In his benedictions, Sri Sai Baba spoke of the need for total healthcare for citizens. He commended Ayurveda and also Homoeopathy and said that the allopathic system of medicine could provide only temporary relief. The Governor, Ms. V.S. Rama Devi, said that Sri Sai Baba was creating such facilities out of love for the people.

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