India could reach the doctor-patient ratio recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) within the next few years, a member of the Centre’s leading think tank Niti Aayog has said.
“With the efforts of the Government of India, the country would be able to achieve the WHO norm of one physician for 1,000 population before 2024,” said Professor Vinod Kumar Paul at a recent convocation in Puducherry. This projection is promising and much-needed for a public health system in dire need of more staffing levels.
India has long experienced an inadequate number of doctors. According to National Health Portal data released last year, India’s doctor-patient ratio numbers at around 1 : 11,082. Reaching the optimal number of doctors per WHO guidelines would address one of the major issues plaguing efforts to ensure health for all in the country. However, as Professor Paul acknowledges, there will be further to go before the issue is settled entirely.
“Overall, the number of doctors does not address the problem of distribution, skills and locations,” Paul noted. In particular, there is the discrepancy between rural and urban areas in terms of their healthcare staffing levels. Around sixty percent of doctors work in urban areas, despite rural India being home to approximately seventy percent of the population. Another issue is the shortage of specialist doctors. Community and primary health centres experience an 82 percent shortfall of specialist doctors. These are present across multiple disciplines, ranging from cardiology to surgery to paediatrics to mental health.
On the subject of allocation, Paul is optimistic that “we have now a trajectory to achieve this great goal which at times looked very [elusive].” However, on the subject of specialist doctor shortages, Paul acknowledges it as “our true challenge today…extraordinary efforts have to be taken to make a difference and address the shortage of specialists.”