The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10th December 1948, uphold the right to health in its Article 25. This fundamental human right, though protected by various international covenants, had somehow been under the radar of various national governments for a long time. India, ranking 145th out of 195 countries in the Lancet Healthcare Access and Quality (HAQ) Index has renewed its efforts to provide comprehensive healthcare coverage with the Ayushman Bharat Yojna.
Arjun Roy was a dynamic officer of the Indian Administrative Service. Trained as a cardiologist, he joined the civil service to bring his expertise to serve the nation. Posted as the district magistrate of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, he planned to target healthcare as a key development area.
It was a Monday morning, and Arjun was visiting the Nilawaya village in Konta block. Sudeshna Rai, the BDO and Alok Bajaj, the district SP, accompanied him. Bhusan, the newly elected Sarpanch
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Years of intense Maoist activities have left its mark on the rural settlement. Arjun walked into the village health centre and found it understaffed. A compounder was dispensing essential medications to patients. Upon enquiry, Arjun learned that nobody wanted a posting in the Maoist affected area. The medical officer of the establishment left two weeks ago after being threatened by a local insurgent group.
Arjun realised that the problem can not be wished away and called for a quick meeting. He intended to discuss the possibilities of deploying telemedicine as a solution to the staffing problem. The district magistrate informed his subordinates that in India, the doctor to patient ratio is less than the WHO prescribed limit of 1:1000. In this situation, telemedicine can contribute significantly to increase access to quality healthcare in a geographically and culturally diverse country like India.
Bhushan was interested. He found hope to deal with the chronic shortage of doctors in his village. Arjun continued. He said that telemedicine use information and communication technology to connect remote locations in the country with advanced health establishments of India. It may not be possible to deploy highly skilled doctors in the interior village. But the health centre can be connected with a medical research facility like AIIMS Raipur or AIIMS, New Delhi.
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Arjun said that the doctors and specialists could use the teleconferencing facilities to diagnose patients in the health centre and direct the staff on the required course of action. Once the IT gears are in place, it will also be possible for the doctors to share resources over the web and train the staff to handle more complicated medical conditions.
Arjun asked Bhusan that since the health centre is not functioning, how they cope up with serious illness? He was informed that they had to travel to Kirandul, a town 50 km away. Arjun said that over 700 million people in rural India have to travel 75-100 km for advanced medical consultations. The implementation of telemedicine will solve this problem.
Moreover, since the telemedicine systems bring many establishments on one platform and are connected round the clock, it is possible to access medical consultation at any time.
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Bhusan was elated to know about telemedicine. He wanted to get it implemented in his village as soon as possible and assured the full cooperation of his office. Arjun asked him to explain the technology in the next gram sabha meeting to create awareness. He asked Sudeshna, the BDO to discuss with technical specialists and draw out an action plan and to see that there is no break in the supply of medicines and medical stores to the village.
Arjun assured that he would have a meeting with the health secretary of the state the same week and get the necessary funding and clearances for deploying telemedicine facility in Nilawaya.
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