With its massive population of over a billion people, India is faced with the logistical challenge of dispensing quality healthcare to each and every citizen irrespective of geographical location and economic status. Today, even in the capital city of Delhi, there is a vast difference in the level of access and quality of healthcare received by people of different economic groups.
The Delhi government has proposed an interesting way to tackle this. It is planning to set up a 3-tier system where the lowest tier is a system of ‘Mohalla Clinics’, government clinics in each neighborhood which provide free consultation, tests and medicines. While the existing dispensaries are meant to cater to 50,000 people, each clinic will cater to around 10,000 people in a locality. So far around a hundred clinics have been set up and the government aims to open 1000 such clinics by the end of the year.
According to one doctor I met, the clinics have been set up haphazardly by the government as an immediate response to the crisis. Mohalla clinics are being set up in rented rooms or with pre-made structures around the city. Those running them are doctors coming out of retirement or wanting to give back to society. The government pays the doctors around Rs 30 for every patient they see which is far lower than what they would have received at a private practice. The clinics in operation have little in common save the promise to provide quality healthcare, the facilities available and the staff employed vary.
The two clinics in my area were open only from 9:30am – 1pm, 5 days a week, during the time many people work. One clinic I visited had a waiting time of around 2 hours while the other had practically no waiting time, though both saw the same number of visitors in a day. At the moment, the clinics are relying on word of mouth to bring new customers.
It is yet to be seen whether the program will be sustainable and successful in providing healthcare to those who had limited access earlier. As I learn more about these clinics, I can’t help but think: Will the community living under a flyover, unaware of a dispensary two kilometres away, ever come to learn of these clinics? Would there even be a clinic set up near where they live, at the intersection of major roads? What about those who were aware of government facilities but couldn’t visit because of their condition or couldn’t afford the travel? Will the maid who takes her children to a private clinic she can ill-afford because she cannot afford to spend time at a dispensary ever be able to access these clinics?
Only time will tell.