Context: For the first time since independence, a tribal President has become a reality in India. On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, let us explore how this symbolic gesture can be turned into a health revolution for the tribal people of India.
- Nearly 11 crore tribal people (enumerated as Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the Census of India (2011) live in India.
- They constitute 6% of India’s population, the second largest number of tribal people in any country in the world.
- A study published in The Lancet, titled ‘Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Health’ (2016), found that India held the inglorious distinction of having the second highest infant mortality rate for the tribal people, next only to Pakistan.
- In 2018, the first national report on the state of India’s tribal people’s health was submitted to the Government of India by the Expert Committee on Tribal Health.
- The 13-member committee was jointly appointed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India.
- Firstly, tribal people are concentrated in 809 blocks in India.
- Such areas are designated as the Scheduled Areas
- Half of India’s tribal population, nearly five and a half crore, live outside the Scheduled Areas, as a scattered and marginalised minority.
- They are the most powerless.
- Second, the health status of tribal people has certainly improved during the last 25 years as seen in the decline in the under-five child mortality rate from 135 in 1988 in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-1 to 57 in 2014 (NFHS-4). However, the percentage of excess of under-five morality among STs compared to others has widened.
- Third, child malnutrition is 50% higher in tribal children: 42% compared to 28% in others.
- Fourth, malaria and tuberculosis are three to 11 times more common among the tribal people.
- Though the tribal people constitute only 8.6% of the national population, half of the total malaria deaths in India occur among them.
- Fifth, while malnutrition, malaria and mortality continue to plague tribal people, gradually, the more difficult to treat non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, and worse, mental health problems such as depression and addiction leading to cancer and suicide, are increasing. These threaten the health and survival of tribal adults.
- Sixth, tribal people heavily depend on government-run public health care institutions, there is a 27% to 40% deficit in the number of such facilities, and 33% to 84% deficit in medical doctors in tribal areas.
- Seventh, there is hardly any participation of the tribal people – locally or at the State or national level – in designing, planning or delivering health care to them.
The official policy of allocating and spending an additional financial outlay, called Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP), equal to the percentage of the ST population in the State, has been completely flouted by all States.
A road map
- Firstly, launch a National Tribal Health Action Plan with a goal to bring the status of health and healthcare at par with the respective State averages in the next 10 years.
- Second, the committee suggested nearly 80 measures to address the 10 priority health problems, the health care gap, the human resource gap and the governance problems.
- Third, the committee suggested allocation of additional money so that the per capita government health expenditure on tribal people becomes equal to the stated goal of the National Health Policy (2017), i.e. 2.5% of the per capita GDP.
The tribal healthcare system is sick, and tribal people need more substantive solutions. India need to move from symbolic gestures to substantive promises, from promises to a comprehensive action plan, and from an action plan to realising the goal of a healthy tribal people.
If actualised, the Tribal Health Mission can be the path to a peaceful health revolution for the 11 crore tribal people. India needs to demonstrate to them that democracy offers a caring solution to their wounds.
Source: The Hindu