Healthcare in India is unaffordable for most people. However, the wheels of health financing are beginning to turn, but slowly, says PT Jyothi Datta.
Barely does Zaheera Begum* begin to recount her experience in getting treatment for breast cancer when three other women sit down and interrupt her — to narrate their difficulties in getting cancer treatment for themselves or their loved ones.
“I am getting expensive chemotherapy medicine, it’s ₹30,000 each shot. And I have 13 more to take. My husband is trying to get money from the village, we are borrowing from here, and we have sold some land at home (Patna),” says Zaheera, her eyes welling up.
Hair cropped short and wearing a nightdress, Zaheera sits on a straw mat on the pavement outside Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital. Her modest belongings include plastic packets with her clothes and a stove with which she and her son try to cook. “The cancer has come back,” says Zaheera’s son and they have been living on the pavement for over 10 months now, even through the monsoon.
Paying for the medical treatment is difficult as trusts, which lend money, “don’t give you money more than once. And cancer requires continuous treatment,” he says. But what about State or Central government insurance schemes? “It takes time for money to come from Ayushman Bharat and we need the money to start treatment now. All our money has been exhausted,” he says, harassed at running pillar to post.
Any time of the day, week or year, this is the ground reality — and at just one hospital. Patients come from across the country, drawn by the hospital’s treatment reputation and the hope of getting some financial assistance. The other women who joined the conversation with Zaheera come from Jhansi, Kolkata and Kanpur. And while two of the women have uterus and breast cancer, respectively, the third woman’s 12-year-old son has a malignant growth in his leg.
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