The public perception of medication and treatment is a major obstacle to improving healthcare in India, says Monica Lakhanpaul (a leading professor of integrated community child health). India is a country deeply rooted in tradition. This often means that many in the population are not eager to accept modern technological or medical intervention, she says.
Lakhanpaul mentioned at the Difficult Dialogues summit that “People have different levels of acceptance for medication because of their socio-cultural assumptions and prejudices”. Also criticised was India’s continued refusal to appoint the necessary funds to the healthcare system to deal with many diseases and situations that are swiftly becoming overwhelming.
An important avenue for health expenditure is education. Many Indians, particularly in rural areas where western style medicine is not as readily available, prefer holistic treatment and natural remedies. This is a part of Indian culture and has been practised for hundreds of years. Many are unwilling to receive modern treatment at the expense of tradition.
For many however, it is a simple matter of the out of pocket expenditure that comes attached to many medical treatments that dissuades them from accessing medical treatment. Since most of India is covered by private medical institutes, with many areas lacking government funded coverage, often the high prices incurred lead people to rely on cheaper alternatives such as holistic treatment.
India’s current economic and cultural situation is a complex one. Many rural areas adamantly adhere to their traditional culture., Their farming communities are in the same condition now as they were generations ago. The conditions of India’s cities could not be more different, where the country’s industrial revolution has sparked change on a cataclysmic scale. This revolution has benefited India economically, but often at the expense of people’s health. These cities are now becoming so polluted from the rapid expansion of industry that 80,665 premature deaths from pollution-related illnesses are said to have occurred in 2015 in Delhi and Mumbai alone.
These two situations, though markedly different, do not exist in isolation. Air pollution affects areas far outside the industrial cities that cause them, causing damage to crops that some statistical studies suggest to be as high as a 36 percent reduction since 1980. The impact of resultant climate change and pollution also causes many of the same health conditions to those in surrounding rural communities as those in the cities.
The high density populations of the cities provide breeding grounds for many infectious diseases, which can then be spread to rural communities through interactions such as trading. Modern day transport systems act as vectors for the transmission of these infections to other regions, presenting rural and tribal communities with disease burdens they would not have been exposed to in the past.
As mentioned by Professor Lakhanpaul, potentially the only way of introducing better standards of medical care to communities and individuals who would otherwise refuse it is through better education. This could either be through schooling or through public events such as the recent artistic medical expo hosted at Thiruvananthapuram Medical college which has drawn a large amount of public attention.
People are, however, often set in their ways. It may be the case that this issue of the lack of acceptance of modern medicine resolves itself on a generational basis. As more and more Indians become accustomed to modern technology, with younger and future generations growing up not knowing life without modern technology, the stigma surrounding western medicine may disappear. Despite this, for many modern medicine is still beyond reach whether they accept it or not.