2024 APR 11

Mains   > Social justice   >   Health   >   Health


GS 2 >> Social Justice >> Public health


World Health Day, celebrated annually on April 7, brings global attention to health equity, a central issue in the pursuit of global health and justice. The World Health Organization (WHO) champions health as a basic human right. This year's theme, "My Health, My Right," underscores the urgent need to address disparities in healthcare access. 


Inclusive healthcare doesn't follow a single blueprint; it's an evolving practice that requires continuous reassessment and adaptation to be truly sustainable. It hinges on four key principles:

  1. Culture of Inclusion: The ethos of inclusive care must permeate an organization's culture, involving not only medical staff but anyone interacting with patients. This involves recognizing and addressing common barriers, providing ongoing training to staff to avoid becoming obstacles themselves, and embedding inclusivity from the first patient interaction. This culture isn’t just a checkbox but a foundational approach to delivering superior care to all.
  2. Welcoming Spaces: Physical accessibility and representation matter in inclusive healthcare. Facilities should accommodate all abilities and offer information in the languages of their patient population. Moreover, the diversity of staff should mirror the diverse groups they serve, creating a more welcoming and understanding environment.
  3. Accessible Materials: Beyond the physical environment, inclusive healthcare means offering materials that are easy to understand and accessible to everyone. This includes large print options, multiple language versions, gender and orientation-neutral language, and cultural sensitivity, ensuring that all patients can access and understand the information they need.
  4. Valuing All Patients: True inclusive care involves patients in their own healthcare decisions and respects their concerns. Providers should aim to meet patients where they are, considering their educational background, financial means, and access to resources, to foster a collaborative and respectful care relationship.


Achieving health equity faces numerous hurdles, from entrenched social inequalities to widespread systemic health issues, especially in countries with diverse populations like India. Here, diverse communities struggle to access quality healthcare.

Global Obstacles:

  • Pandemic Risks: Health equity battles global threats that cross borders, necessitating worldwide collaboration. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how infectious diseases disproportionately affect marginalized and vulnerable populations, exacerbating health equity disparities.
  • Climate Change Impacts: Climate change significantly threatens health, disproportionately affecting low-income and vulnerable communities. Healthcare provision is further strained by conflicts that devastate infrastructure, displace communities, and block access to essential health services.

Challenges Unique to India:

  • Vast and Diverse Demographics: India's large and diverse population presents unique health equity challenges, with stark disparities in healthcare access and outcomes. Despite improvements over the past two decades, rural areas still lag behind in healthcare access.
  • Urban Slums: Constituting over 17% of India's urban areas, slums display severe health inequities, exacerbated by overcrowding, poor sanitation, and limited clean water access. The prevalence of infectious diseases like tuberculosis is notably higher in these areas.
  • Caste and Gender Disparities: Data reveals significant health disparities across caste and gender lines, with Scheduled Castes and Tribes experiencing higher child mortality and lower vaccination rates. Anemia is considerably more common among women in the lowest wealth quintiles, underscoring the intersectionality of health inequities.
  • Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs): NCDs are responsible for over 60% of deaths in India, highlighting the urgent need for equitable healthcare access and preventive measures. The economic impact of NCDs could exceed USD 6 trillion by 2030, emphasizing the critical need for action.
  • Doctor Shortage: A severe lack of healthcare professionals, with only 0.8 doctors per 1,000 people, falls below recommended levels, especially impacting rural areas despite over 75% of healthcare workers being in cities.
  • Financial Barriers: Despite government healthcare schemes, the cost of healthcare remains a barrier, particularly in urban settings. Out-of-pocket healthcare expenses vary significantly across states, with many facing increased costs between health surveys.


  • Comprehensive Health Initiatives: Elevating health literacy is critical. Incorporating health education into the National Health Mission (NHM) empowers individuals to pursue equitable care and make informed health decisions, transforming health equality into a communal objective.
  • Governmental Role: Through strategic funding, innovative policies, and legislation, the government can significantly impact health equity. Initiatives like Ayushman Bharat, which offers free health coverage to economically disadvantaged groups, alongside the NHM's efforts to bridge the rural-urban healthcare divide, are pivotal in reducing disparities.
  • Cross-Sector Collaboration: Joint efforts between the government, public, and private sectors are vital in delivering services to underserved communities. This includes focusing on preventive care, workforce enhancement, and infrastructure improvements. NGOs play a crucial role in community outreach, working alongside international and government bodies to design culturally appropriate health solutions.
  • International Support: Financial and technical assistance from global institutions bolster healthcare systems in developing nations, improving infrastructure, training, and access to medicines and technology. Organizations like the WHO and the Global Fund facilitate knowledge and resource exchange to fortify health systems in resource-limited settings.
  • Innovation and Technology: The commercial and non-profit sectors drive accessibility and affordability through digital health innovations, expanding their impact. Academic and research institutions provide valuable insights into health disparities and intervention efficacy, promoting evidence-based policies.
  • Community-based Organizations: Entities with a strong local footprint are crucial for ensuring the relevance and success of health programs. Their intimate understanding of community needs allows for effective planning and implementation of health initiatives.
  • Collaborative Efforts: Achieving health equity depends on open communication, mutual respect, and shared objectives among all stakeholders. Emphasizing community empowerment, knowledge sharing, and capacity building is key to adapting to changing health needs and community expectations.
  • Increased Health Funding: Enhancing public health spending is imperative. With recommendations to raise combined public health expenditure to 2.5% of the GDP by 2025, addressing the coverage gap for the "missing middle" in health insurance becomes increasingly important.

Inclusive healthcare transcends mere medical treatment; it embodies the creation of a healthcare system that honors the dignity and rights of every person. It involves catering to the varied needs of all, especially the marginalized and vulnerable, by ensuring healthcare services are accessible, affordable, and culturally sensitive.


Q: Discuss the challenges and strategies for achieving inclusive healthcare in India. What are the key areas for improvement? (15M,250W)