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July, 15

Specialised medicines, doctors and health insurance still beyond many rural households: Bharat Health Index

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People living in rural and semi-rural areas may have access to essential medicine, but specialised medicines, doctors and health insurance are still beyond the reach of many households, finds a Bharat Health Index survey done by PayNearby, advocating for a greater healthcare push in the last mile.  

About 52 per cent of respondents had a pharmacy within a five km radius of their residence, making essential medicines relatively accessible, a note on the survey said. However, 85 per cent had to travel more than 10 km to obtain specialised medicines, it added.

PayNearby is a branchless banking and digital payments network, and the survey covered 10,000-plus retailers across semi-rural and rural India, over a month.

ALSO READ | Rural India is struggling with shortage of doctors, paramedical staff

Besides medicines, the absence of skilled healthcare providers also posed a challenge. “Only 15 per cent of respondents confirmed having a doctor’s clinic or healthcare facility within a five kilometer radius. In terms of medical practitioners available, while 25 per cent had access to general physicians in their area, 92 percent lacked specialised doctors, such as cardiologists, gynaecologists or paediatricians, impacting medical care.” it noted.

Reinforcing findings of earlier studies, this survey also found, that for specialised treatment such as cancer, neurological or blood disorders, “90 per cent needed to travel to a different location for treatment.” In fact, five per cent reported loss of a loved one due to unavailability of specialist doctors at the local healthcare facility, it added.

Low-insurance awareness

The report also pointed to the “abysmally low insurance awareness among Bharat’s last mile”.

About 55 per cent of respondents had never heard of insurance. And among those aware, only 32 per cent had opted for it at some point, with just 28 per cent possessing health insurance for themselves or their families. “Among those with insurance, 88 per cent obtained it from government or state sponsored schemes, while less than 10 per cent obtained it from private insurance providers,” the survey found.

Jayatri Dasgupta, Chief Marketing Officer with PayNearby told businessline, while it may take time to create health infrastructure, technology could be leveraged to reach services to people, through health-hubs etc.

The survey also examined the funding of medical expenses. An average household in Bharat spent approximately 15-20 per cent of their yearly income on medical expenses. About 23 per cent relied on informal loans or borrowing for hospital expenses, while 6 percent resorted to selling assets to pay off their medical bills. About 53 per cent utilised some form of savings to cover these expenses, it said. .

Anand Kumar Bajaj, Founder, Managing Director and Chief Executive of PayNearby said, the survey reinforced the urgent need to scale healthcare services for the masses. “More than 80 per cent of doctors, 75 per cent of dispensaries, 60 per cent of hospitals are concentrated in urban India, leaving out marginalised population in SURU (semi urban and rural) to fend for themselves.”





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