India has long been short of doctors, nurses and hospital beds. And a recent working paper by Shruti Rajagopalan and Abishek Choutagunta of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center reminds us of that. Compared to the world average of 150 doctors per 100,000 people, India has only 86 doctors registered for practice. The actual number of doctors available for practice, as Basant Potnuru shows, is even lower: we probably have only around 64 doctors per 100,000 people, well below half the world average. Of course, the national average does not tell the whole story: southern states and urban areas are vastly better served than other parts of India. The picture with regard to nurses is relatively better, but there is still a shortage, regional variation and differences in skill levels.
We could take any indicator of healthcare capacity and find that as a country, we are short of it. Public expenditure on healthcare is low — our Union and state governments together spend around 1.5 per cent of GDP on health — and most of India relies on private, mostly out-of-pocket healthcare. Even as we point fingers at the government for spending too little on health, consider that only 20 per cent of the population has medical insurance. Perhaps it is yatha praja, tatha raja, and we have been collectively casual about our health.