Round Table on
‘ICT @ Health for the masses’
October 17, 2008

By Gaurang Sharma

Health has always been a cause of primary concern in our country, especially in a scenario where large populations do not have access to proper health care facilities. The roundtable conference on ‘ICT @ Health for the Masses’ discussed issues pertaining to problems in health sector and how they can be solved with the use of information and technology and delivery of digital content. The health sector is the largest growing sector in the country.

Chairperson Dr. Ashok Patil mentioned listed out key crucial points relating to health sector, emphasizing that health and development are inseparable. Literacy rate should be increased to create awareness about health and sanitation. He mentioned the fact that only 3% of India’s GDP is spent on the health sector, whereas in developed countries, this percentage is 9 to 11 %, so there is need to increase budget allocation in this sector. Government has initiated many projects to improve health conditions in the country; NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) is one of them.

One participant opined that lack of health facilities in the country is not a problem, but has become an opportunity for many, so the mindset needs to be changed. Sustained efforts are needed by the medical and patient fraternity.

Dr Ritu Biyani of High>>> Ways beyond cancer said that people should first know the realities of rural areas and then preach. Technology should reach the grass root levels for its effective usage. Dr Biyani, a cancer survivor herself, gave an example where the doctor made the mistake of asking a patient to go for cancer operation without proper diagnosis. However, the patient was given a clean chit by a reputed diagnostic center. This is the plight of our so called doctors in rural areas.

Dr. Patil highlighted that Pravash Medical Trust is one website which is looking after the basic needs of the rural people. It gradually shifts it focus to health because people with no food and water cannot think about issues of health. He opined that in majority of the cases, doctors are not required. On Pravash Medical Trust website, farmers get to know about the village’s climate for the entire week. This helps him in planning accordingly. Newspapers do not provide information for a particular village. Each childbirth in that particular village is uploaded on the website. The organization believes that health problems should be viewed from a socio-economic angle. A poor rural woman who is pregnant cannot think of procuring iron tablets because she cannot afford it.

In fact, the problem of malnutrition is widespread in our country. Gujarat is an ideal example of how ICT can be used in solving the problems of health, sanitation, and malnutrition. One panelist put forward the view that there is lack of a uniform policy in the country. Each state government formulates its own policy which leads to clash of interest and lack of understanding.

The entire country might not have been able to formulate a uniform action plan, but the sarpanch of a village explained how he had given his village a facelift with the help of ICT as far as health and hygiene are concerned. Basic information on hygiene was provided through computers.

The chairperson explained that there are basically three issues as far as ICT @ health for the masses is concerned.

Firstly, how to reach to the people living in rural areas.

Secondly, how to empower medical staff, including nurses and midwives.

And thirdly, there has to be effective implementation of government policies like NHRM etc.

He said that the role of public- private partnership should be admired. Efforts should be made towards leveraging the potential in the private sector in our country. Ultimately people in rural areas will have to go to government hospitals. Therefore, there is need to improve services over there. The problem concerns the implementation of technology. In this regard, the concept of telemedicine is very attractive.

Resistance at many levels hampers the application of technology. Technology now has become easily available for the masses but how to harness this technology is the question. For example, BSNL can provide connectivity to many villages which are situated on the sides of the railway line because broadband is used for railway signals.

One member emphasized the need of effective legislation in order to make people realise that they have no other option but to follow the command of the law. Law can be a very powerful tool in making the use of technology mandatory for people.

This is because there is an immense need for health in development, as only a healthy citizen can be productive in their performance.

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