A new book looks to provide a visual – and perhaps vital – representation of the disparities in Indian healthcare. Recently published by the Chhattisgarh-based non-profit Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS), “An Atlas of Rural Health: Chronicles from Central India” consists of fifty true stories, coupled with various health maps and cartograms.
The book aims to spread awareness of the pitfalls present within the rural health infrastructure of the Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh, where JSS operates, shining a light on the desperate conditions of many living in the district. However, the problems it illuminates will be the same for many Indians, especially the rural populace. For those who struggle to obtain proper medical care, many stories within the book will ring painfully true.
One of the points illustrated by the stories is one that Health Issues India has raised before -that the lack of healthcare infrastructure and shortage of medical professionals are to blame for the increasingly more common sight of witch doctors and unlicensed quacks. These unregistered and untrained individuals, whilst an obvious risk to their patient’s well being, are simply filling the gaps. Many patients turn to them because they have no other options.
This situation is not ignored entirely by the Indian government. Suggestions have been made to give the ever increasing number of quack doctors in India at least a basic level of medical training. This situation has in the past been covered by Health Issues India. While this is a less palatable option than providing actual doctors for these rural communities, at the very least it will cut down on unsafe practices – to some degree.
One story from the book mentioned in an article from The Hindu summarises the situation with quack doctors and a reliance on holistic medicine. The story recalls the situation of a young boy, Dal Singh, who was bitten by a snake and given a herbal concoction, considered by Baiga tribals as a remedy for snake bites. The child died within a day of the bite.
Snake bites are a common and deadly phenomenon in rural India, which accounts for 97 percent of the 46,000 deaths from snake bites in India every year. This is at least in part because treatment is often limited to herbal remedies, particularly if the venom is fast acting and transport to a hospital is limited. In more urbanised areas where access to healthcare is more abundant, antivenom will be more readily available and so the bites are not as grave a threat.
A large portion of the book places an emphasis on maps. They form a clear visual representation of the inequalities faced in the Indian medical system. Titled the “Maps of Inequality”, one of the consistent trends is that resource-poor states share a disproportionately large percentage of the disease burden.
Other maps illustrate that of the total maternal mortality rate, the north eastern states display hugely elevated numbers compared to the rest of India. Malaria maps demonstrate the areas with an abundance of mosquito spread disease.
This book serves to highlight the negligence for rural areas that has been the norm for both healthcare and infrastructure in general for decades. The fact that even the government acknowledges and allows the usage of quack doctors demonstrates an almost dismissive attitude towards the situation. Providing adequate healthcare to the millions living in rural areas is a task of tremendous proportions, and it is likely these people will not see any large scale transformation within their lifetime without focused efforts towards this goal.