Sunday, May 20, 2007

Medical Education in Maharashtra - 1

Creating a robust Medical Education is a strategic imperative for India – healthcare is a critical sector of the economy in any nation. In a growing nation like India – with an absolute deficit of doctors, -- establishing a robust "pipeline" of medical talent is a critical element of development. After all, you cannot create economic surplus if you're sick.

Stewards of state are therefore expected to create an environment where talent is allowed to nurture and bloom.

Sadly, stewards of state in India -- and in Maharashtra in particular -- have done exceedingly well at destroying talent by establishing a deadening centralised license raj.

This is the story of what has happened in Maharashtra -- and what to expect as a result.

To begin with, starting a medical college in India is tough. You have to jump through multiple governmental hoops to get a green signal: from the number of beds you have/need, to the sizes of lecture rooms... even the fees you can charge!

However, the government worries very little about what quality of doctors you produce (in stark contrast, virtually all nations tightly regulate the quality of doctors produced; important, since a drop in educational standards can directly cost human lives).

As a result, many freshly graduated doctors in India are, to put it midly, incompetent. I had colleagues in my class who could not read a chest X-ray. This in a country where the first, second and third diagnosis for chronic cough is tuberculosis, tuberculosis and tuberculosis.

As a result, even after nearly 6 years of schooling, employment opportunities for a Doctor are slim (in stark contrast to graduates from engineering or management colleges).

No one comes to medical schools in India to recruit the next generation of Naresh Trehans or Nitu Mandkes: the cost associated with separating the wheat from the chaff is just not worth it. The best hospitals, in fact, simply do not entertain candidates until they earn credentials overseas – a simpler way (but more effective, at least from the Hospital’s perspective) of ensuring quality of supply.

Despite these flaws, the system was getting by: many doctors were starting out on their own, others were earning overseas qualifications and either returning or emigrating.

Somewhat predictably, the Maharashtra government began facing a crippling shortage of medical officers -- particularly in her rural areas.

Instead of freeing up the supply of doctors to address this shortage, the Government actually strengthened its stranglehold over supply and brough every aspect of medical education under direct governmental control.

All students were forced into mandatory rural service (girls from my class have served their bonds in Gadchiroli – a naxal infested area). Bonds were signed to make sure no student ‘slipped the dragnet’. Since the government could not "afford" to pay her resident doctors (doctors in teaching hospitals working to earn their MD/MS degrees), salaries were reduced. In fact, several resident doctors working to earn their DNB, do so gratis! Imagine a 27 year, unpaid neurosurgery resident!

Education delivery was next. Medicine programs that had run for perhaps longer than a 100 years at Mumbai and Pune University (among others) were dismantled and centralised to a no-name university operating out of a shed in Nasik. Centralised because the state found it easier to control one puppet university, Nasik because that was the health minister’s constituency.

To complete the picture, private medical schools in Maharasthra were also told by the government whom they must admit and what fees to charge!

As respected programs were demolished and replaced with an unknown and unwanted one, examination standards dropped; the new degree was even invalid internationally for several years. Doctors’ employability levels dropped further.

The result has been predictable. Lines to join medical school have been getting thinner. Growth in seats has stalled -- not one medical seat has been added in Mumbai in the past decade. Those already stuck in the system are leaving: fully half my graduating class has either migrated overseas, moved out of the clinical sciences or both.

Over a short span of ten years, vibrancy in medical education in Maharashtra was decimated, replaced by a deadening License Raj. A Raj of unmet demand, insufficient supply and poor quality.

But the divine law of supply and demand -- hated by the dirigiste state -- has caught up with Maharashtra. Over the next 20 years, Maharashtra will face a catastrophic shortage of medical doctors. This shortage will hit where it hurts most: public healthcare.

This catastrophe will not be easy to fix: it takes years to create a medical college of any standing (infrastructure, teachers, a working hospital) and nearly a decade to make a doctor (longer, if you include complex specialities).

By acting cynically to perpetuate their personal control over the sector, Maharashtra’s political leaders have virtually wiped out an entire generation of physicians, exposing her citizens to medical risk of institutional proportions.

They must be tried for criminal malpractice.

And yet, it is possible for Maharashtra to reverse the decay; i shall cover the topic in a separate post.

Monday, May 14, 2007

First you screw them...

... then you give them sops.
Classic maay-baap sarkar behaviour: choke off all sources of income to reduce to penury.
Then save from penury -- but only just -- by starting a life-support drip.
Control the pace of the drip to ensure that income is never infused fast enough for the patient to recover and walk off.

When will the UPA idiots learn?
The solution to Agriculture, as elsewhere, is simple:

1. Establish a water and electricity policy -- including private transmission and distribution to ensure farmers have the "raw materials" to grow and transport food (a lot of food perishes because our cold chains are poor -- because we dont even have 100% electricity). Buttress with a buildout of roads (remember the NDA's golden quadrilateral?)

2. Get out of the way -- dismantle controlled price regimes and allow farmers to produce what the market needs -- and sell directly to consumers.