Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Rising medical costs sound death knell for farmers

Rising medical costs sound death knell for farmers

By - Jaideep Hardikar

Full Story can be found at

NAGPUR: It's not just a bad crop or unpaid loans that are reasons behind farmer deaths in Vidarbha region. Heavy debt incurred due to high medical bills is emerging as another strong reason.

The 43-year-old sarpanch of Kocchi village Varshatai Tatewar is broke, as she has spent an enormous sum during the two months of treatment her husband Raju underwent before he died in February.

The family drained all their savings and fixed deposits, sold off Varshatai's ornaments and borrowed Rs2.5 lakh from relatives to pay the hospital bills and buy medicines.

Varshatai, who is neckdeep in debt, said, "We spent around Rs7 lakh for his treatment, in Yavatmal and Nagpur, but the doctors could not save him." Raju was taken to a private hospital in Yavatmal, which then referred his case to Sawangi Medical Hospital at Wardha.

There he was treated for a month before being referred again to a super-specialty hospital in Nagpur. A month later, he died. "My husband was on a ventilator for 18 days," said Varshatai, adding, "I don't know if he was being treated properly. We were not allowed to see him every day."

A medical officer at the primary health centre at Darwha in Yavatmal, said, "It's usual to see a farmer unable to meet medical expenditure mortgage his land to the doctor."

Raju did not commit suicide, as he was a 30-acre progressive farmer with a strong financial founding. But his illness left his family indebted after his demise, notes Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. "This is also part of agrarian tragedy. Imagine a situation where a farmer is unable to bear healthcare costs."

Last year, thousands of farmers in Vidarbha had to borrow money from private lenders or mortgage their lands to doctors during the chikungunya outbreak.

In a village near Wadki in Wani tehsil of Yavatmal, two sisters - Karishma, 12, and Laxmi Uikey, 14 - died due to viral fever in September last. Their farmer-parents could not afford to take them to a hospital.

Suchet Bhagwat, a hospital management consultant in Nagpur said, "There's no doubt the health care cost has shot up." He feels a boom in super-specialty hospitals has spiralled medical expenses.

"What we need today is a strong basic healthcare system. The private health sector neglects it because of low returns; they invest heavily in sophisticated technology also a reason why medical expenses have risen," he said.

In Vidarbha, the government health set-up is better than in many other parts, but a farmer too wants quick cure and aggressive treatment, argues Bhagwat. "What the government can do is to make it mandatory for all specialty hospitals to have a few beds reserved for patients from rural areas."

An Akola psychiatrist Dr Sujay Patil said, "Rural Vidarbha is witnessing a wave of depression among farmers which is rooted in its economics." Dr Patil renders free services to farmers suffering from clinical depression.

A National Sample Survey Organisation survey (2003-04) says medical care is now the second-most common cause of rural family debt. The number of people unable to take treatment in the mid-1990s was double than what it was a decade earlier. By 1996, nearly one in every four rural Indians had fallen in this group.

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