OPINION

Silent Cradles and Obese Generals

May 05, 2007
Shantanu Dutta

A recent CNN -IBN report describing the plight of two abandoned children makes for very disturbing reading. In at least one instance   the parents were interviewed on television and the parent stated that it was a hard decision for them but the plain fact that the child had a congenital defect and the treatment cost of Rs 1 Lakh was some thing that they simply did not have. In the subsequent panel discussion that followed, one point that came out was that the prohibitive cases of health care, particularly pediatric health care is so expensive. Practically there is nothing that is available free in the public sector where even basic drugs may no be available and so every thing that requires any level of attention and care has to be purchased. And since the costs are so prohibitive , the choices are basically limited to

1) choose the escape route by abandoning the patient as happened with the two children and often happens with the widows that crowd up the ghats of Varanasi and Vrindaban or

2) sell off your home and hearth and land andthen get into perpetual debt trying to pay it off but never really succeeding.

There will always be a debate about the manner in which the government should prioritize its expenses and spends and typically the elephantine head of national security gobbles up the bulk of the money leaving the social sector with some crumbs. But even assuming that the government sets aside some funds for health care along the lines of the funds collected through the education cess or the safety surcharge on railway tickets, there is no way that allocation will ever keep pace with cost escalation and therefore prudence would always be necessary in the manner in which spending decisions are made.

That brings me to the topic of thetummy tucks and face lifts and other such that the Army is offering for free to serving and ageing army officers and their spouses to preserve their youthful looks through the Command Hospital in Pune. No one will deny that the Armed Forces deserve the best health care that the country can provide but tummy tucks and face lifts and nose jobs at the cost of the tax payer? Considering that the bulk of the taxes one pays are not direct taxes like income tax but indirect taxes which are built into the necessities of daily life, it is therefore ironic that parents who had to abandon their children because they did not have the money are now contributing to the artificially constructed noses and tummies of some middle aged and obese general.

The problem of increased costs in health care is a complex one and it cannot be easily tackled. Some of the historical advantages that India had of producing cheaply produced generic drugs, we are now slowly losing as patent laws change and we give in to the dictates of Western multi nationals. Health insurance, which is what most of the developed world lives by has not really taken off in the country as with large populations living just in survival mode, coping with troubles and issues today is their concern and not the difficulties that may crop up tomorrow. So the problem of abandoned children is not going to go away any time soon. Meanwhile, we will have lots and lots of silent cradles where the cry has fallen silent and many obese army men with their baggy eyelids fixed, tummies trimmed and their faces and noses lifted with some help from a poor man's taxes - a man who can't feed his own children and leaves them to the elements and the goodness of God. Somewhere along the way, we have lost the art of discernment. We cannot distinguish any more between necessity and vanity. And that is sad.

Shantanu Dutta is a medical doctor by training and a development professional by vocation. His writings mostly deal with change, complexity and conversion and tries to look at a changing world through heaven's eyes.
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