Manohar Parrikar, Pinayari Vijayan, Sonia Gandhi, Anant Kumar have all gone abroad to seek treatment.
While India follows a stated policy of not accepting foreign aid during crisis, our politicians continue to go abroad for their medical care.
Goa CM Manohar Parrikar, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, and union minister Anant Kumar have all gone abroad to seek treatment.
Most of them could have gotten exceptional care at a centre of excellence here in India itself. Why then did they go abroad?
First, we assume that healthcare abroad is excellent. A study from the United States had shown that doctors who trained in countries like India seemed to provide better medical care compared to US-trained physicians. Most experts would agree that the care one receives abroad is similar to that you get in a centre of excellence in India. As a doctor who trained and worked in three Western countries with exceptional health standards, I can vouch for the same. Needless to say, the care that could be provided at the Indian facility will be substantially cheaper compared to that given in the West.
Second, we love our privacy. But we dislike the privacy of another person. People who are in positions of influence and power do not like to have it curtailed. Public knowledge of the health details of our leaders may result in alternate power centres, which we can all agree is not good for a democratic nation. Western countries have excellent means of protecting patient privacy. Even if a breach of privacy happens, there are mechanisms to identify the culprit. Once identified, the punishment is quick and severe. It is not difficult for us to implement that patient privacy protection here. But with the precedence set by ministers themselves sharing names and details of people who sought care under Ayushman Bharat scheme, it is obvious that privacy protection is not a public health priority in India. The Centre did issue a circular later to states about protecting medical data under Ayushman Bharat programme.
Third, it appears that the medical care for most of our leaders abroad is funded by taxpayers’ money, although there is little transparency about who foots these bills. The government reportedly spends about Rs 3-4 crore annually on medical expenses of sitting and former MLAs. Our leaders should get the best care possible. There are no two ways about that. And, there is no question that the best care can be given within the nation at much cheaper rates. Hence, there really is no reason for taxpayers’ money to be spent at a foreign institution. Sadly, it is testament to the poor state of our public sector institutions that our leaders seek care abroad.
While many on social media have argued that politicians should be banned from seeking care abroad using public funds, but I think it would not be a good exercise. Instead, we should replicate the model of the United States where the President of the nation gets his care at the armed forces’ hospital. We should equip our armed force hospitals across the country with the best doctors and equipment and insist that if our leaders require expert care, they can obtain it there. If they were to still seek care abroad, they can do so at their own expense.
Doing this will serve three purposes – one, it will boost our healthcare system incredibly. Two, it will keep the costs affordable. Finally, it will help protect our national interest.
The best medical care for our leaders is our responsibility. They spend their active years in the service of our country. It is imperative that we take great care of them. And there is nothing better than getting excellent medical care in India itself than travelling long distances and adjusting to new systems to get medical care.
The author is an Assistant Professor, Division of Medical Oncology, Markey Cancer Center, University of Kentucky, USA and Director, Kerala Cancer Care, Kochi.