For the first time, the government will map health facilities, doctors and specialists available in all districts of the country. The health geo-mapping project has already been completed in four districts chosen as a pilot. When the entire country is covered, the project will cost around Rs 100 crore as per initial estimates drawn up by the Ministry of Health.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is partnering the project.
Lack of authentic data on healthcare resources has long been one of the biggest impediments to health planning in India. It is universally acknowledged that doctors and health facilities are far more easily available in urban than in rural areas but there has never been an attempt in the past to quantify the gap in density and to plan accordingly. Even when states come to present their programme implementation plans in the National Health Mission, demands are made in broad contours of requirement rather than a specific assessment of needs based on population, disease profile etc. Assessments of requirement have been known to change with successive health secretaries.
The four districts that have been covered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are Hazaribagh (Jharkhand), Vellore (Tamil Nadu), Dungarpur (Rajasthan) and Dimapur (Nagaland). Both government and private health facilities will be mapped, as will be availability and distribution of chemists.
In the first phase, the government is looking at covering eight states though the names are yet to be finalised. Sources said UP and Bihar, where health indicators are among the worst, would be taken up on a priority.
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“It is one of the worst kept secrets of health planning that there is no data available that can tell us where exactly a public health centre is needed and how many doctors should be posted there. It is all a tad impressionistic when plans are made,” said a senior official associated with the project.
“But that will change now with the availability of real-time data,” the official added. “Once the mapping of a district has been completed, all the data about the number of health facilities, number of doctors, breakup of specialisation, qualification and experience of doctors and all such information for both public and private setups will be available at the click of a mouse.”
The official said the mapping of specialists would also ensure that in future planning for medical education, the skewed distribution of seats — specialties such as oncology have very few doctors passing out every year because of the low number of seats — could be addressed keeping in mind the health profile of the country.
Sources say part of the project cost would be borne by the Gates foundation; the breakup between the government and the foundation will be worked out later.
The decision to undertake the project in eight states in the first phase was finalised Tuesday but with Health Minister J P Nadda away in Himachal Pradesh, the list will have to wait for his approval, sources said.