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Published on November 27, 2023

From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Miracles: The Dynamic Shifts in Indian Healthcare

An increased awareness of the importance of healthcare has led to several changes in the Indian healthcare system, which is a complex and diverse network of private and public sectors providing a wide range of medical facilities to the Indian population.

The advancements in technology and initiatives taken by the Indian government have shown remarkable changes and growth in the Indian healthcare sector over the years. The evolution of healthcare facilities in India has made it one of the topmost destinations for medical tourism due to cost-effectiveness, availability of experienced and skilled doctors, and use of advanced technology.

The continuous investment in healthcare facilities and innovations points towards an optimistic future for Indian healthcare.

Pre-Independence Era: Foundation and Challenges

The introduction of Western medicine in India dates back to the year 1600, when medical officers came to India with the British East India Company. The East India Company established its rule in India in the year 1757 and a medical department was first established in Bengal to provide medical services to the servants and troops of the company.

Historical Background

Hospital boards were formed in the year 1775 to administer the European Hospitals consisting of the Physician General and Surgeon General, who were a part of the staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Indian Army.

Gradually more medical departments, hospitals, and medical institutes were introduced in the country. The number of dispensaries and public hospitals rose from 1200 in 1880 to about 2500 in 1902.

Traditional Medicine and Local Practices

India is home to several traditional medicine practices like Ayurveda, Unani and Yoga, Siddha, Homoeopathy, and Naturopathy. These systems have been playing an important role in meeting healthcare needs globally and will continue to do so in the future.

Infrastructure and Skilled Workforce

The establishment of medical hospitals under the British government lacked the use of the latest technology and skilled medical professionals. However, the introduction of new medical institutes brought about a positive change.

Post-Independence Reforms: Expansion and Initiatives

At the time of Indian Independence, there were approximately 7400 hospitals and dispensaries in the country. This number grew gradually with various healthcare initiatives and expansions. India’s Ministry of Health was established in the year 1947 after independence.

Nehruvian Era: Focus on Infrastructure

Post-independence, the Nehruvian era focused on expanding Indian healthcare services significantly. The results show that during the period between 1951 to 2018, the number of public hospitals and dispensaries in the country has increased from 9,294 to 53,729; allopathic doctors have gone up from 62,000 to 11.5 lakhs; and nursing personnel has gone up from 18,000 to 30 lakhs.

Eradication of Diseases

After gaining independence, India launched many national programs to eradicate communicable diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox, polio, and AIDS.

Primary Healthcare and Rural Reach

Certain steps taken by the Indian government, like public-private partnerships, mobile clinics, regular health camps, telemedicine, the introduction of more healthcare centers, etc., have made primary healthcare facilities available to the urban and rural sectors of India.

Liberalization and Technological Advancements

The healthcare sector in India has seen tremendous growth in the past few decades due to the use of the latest medical technology and the initiatives taken by the government. Additionally, the introduction of several private organizations has made healthcare facilities widely available across India. 

Ujala Cygnus Hospital in Kanpur is a prime example of a network of hospitals providing quality medical care at an affordable cost. It has a chain of 18 hospitals spread across 15 cities of India, which also includes cities from the tier 2 and 3 areas of the country.

Impact of Economic Reforms

Economic reforms and liberalization in India have led to an improved healthcare infrastructure and more funds. It has also led to the emergence and participation of several private organizations in the Indian healthcare system.

Technology Integration

The introduction of the latest medical technology and equipment, such as telemedicine, remote video consultations, mobile vans, digital health records, etc., has helped in providing healthcare facilities to people residing in remote locations of the country.

Medical Tourism and Global Recognition

India has become one of the most popular destinations for medical tourism in recent years and is attracting patients from all across the globe. This is because of the availability of quality medical care at an affordable cost, skilled medical professionals, the latest medical technology, a wide range of medical specialties, proficiency in the English language, ease of travel, and alternative medicine options.

Current Challenges and Ongoing Reforms

Although the Indian healthcare system has advanced significantly over the last couple of years, there are still several challenges that need to be addressed, such as the lack of healthcare awareness, lack of infrastructure, shortage of trained manpower, and high cost of medical treatment.

Healthcare Disparities

One of the key challenges in providing healthcare facilities is the unequal distribution of skilled professionals and medical facilities between the urban and rural areas of India.

Ujala Cygnus aims to bridge this gap and is working towards building more hospitals in tier 2 and 3 cities of India to provide quality medical treatment at an affordable cost to the rural population of India.

Universal Health Coverage

The Indian government launched a flagship universal health coverage initiative known as Ayushman Bharat in the year 2018. The scheme provides health coverage and financial protection to the vulnerable population of India through the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana and Health and Wellness Centers across India. There were about 117 thousand Health and Wellness Centers across India as of December 2022.

Future Prospects: Holistic and Integrated Healthcare

The healthcare system has shown positive changes over the years and is expected to improve further due to the initiatives taken by the public as well as private healthcare sectors of the country.

Preventive Healthcare and Health Education

The preventive healthcare measures include a focus on health education and awareness, fitness, general health and wellness, nutrition, early diagnosis, and health tracking.

Various healthcare schemes and government programs like Health for All and The National Health Assurance Mission aim to enhance preventive healthcare services in India. The preventive healthcare market in India is currently estimated to be worth more than $800 million and is expected to reach up to $197 billion by 2025.

Integrating Traditional and Modern Medicine

The doctors in India are slowly moving towards the amalgamation of traditional and modern medicine for better healthcare outcomes. While modern medicine relies on curative treatment practices, traditional medicine focuses more on preventive measures and the holistic wellness of an individual. Integrating both these systems, therefore, can help in transforming the Indian healthcare delivery system with positive outcomes.

Conclusion

The healthcare system in India has transformed over the years through the initiatives taken by the government, the involvement of the private sector, and the application of the latest medical technology. India continues to invest in several healthcare initiatives to overcome the challenges and make quality healthcare facilities available and affordable for one and all.

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