India tackles corruption at state hospitals

Review is aimed at ending kickbacks and other illegal medical practices

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 1:58pm

India has placed all central government-run hospitals under "critical review" to identify and end corrupt medical practices in the country.

The hospitals under scrutiny will include the New Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences as the government aims to "end systematic and symptomatic corruption", according to a statement by Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.

The probe intends to help make health care services more accessible and safe in Asia's third-largest economy, where 825 million people live on less than US$2 per day and 86 per cent of health care is paid out of pocket by individuals. A study by the Public Health Foundation of India and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that non-communicable ailments such as heart disease are now more common among the poor than the rich in India.

"Very soon the results are going to be in the public domain," Vardhan said. "In my first 90 days in office hardly a day has passed without inquiring into the transparency of the ministry and its outposts."

Private companies dominate India's health care system, while government hospitals are overcrowded and lack the resources to cater to growing demand.

Though the industry is growing at 15 per cent a year according to consulting firm PwC, public spending on health care has stagnated at about 1 per cent of gross domestic product for years.

That compares to 3 per cent in China and 8.3 per cent in the United States, according to a World Bank database for 2012.

In May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had led his Bhartiya Janta Party to the biggest electoral win in three decades, trouncing the incumbent Congress party. On the campaign trail, he called for the eradication of government corruption.

"I will impose 500 per cent transparency and adopt a zero tolerance for corruption," said Vardhan. He said his ministry would rectify practices such as bribery or favouritism in the allocation of hospital beds and kickbacks from suppliers of medical goods, if these are discovered.

The government crackdown started last month after a media report exposed alleged kickback arrangements between diagnostic laboratories and doctors in India's capital.

Additional reporting by Reuters