The Medical Council of India lists 262 accredited colleges that train and create 29,172 doctors every year. And still, the state of the healthcare in our rural areas is dismal at best. Outlook describes India’s rural medical scenario as “a state healthcare machinery that’s cynical, corrupt, non-accountable and non-functional, forcing patients to opt for rapacious private practitioners, quacks—or no medical care at all.”

And this is the industry that is expected to bring in more than $100 million as additional revenue for the medical sector through ‘medical tourism’ according to a 2004 McKinsey – Confederation of Indian Industries study. Several articles have been written about this phenomenon by Time and the Washington Post, to name just a few.

But not many stories tell the plight of the rural poor’s battle for health.

“Seventy per cent of our population lives outside the cities but eight out of ten doctors and a shocking eighty percent of all hospital beds are urban,” according to Kavery Nambisan, a surgeon and novelist in her article titled ‘Rural Gangrene’ in a recent issue of the Outlook. The same issue goes on to talk about the movement created by a courageous group of doctors who have been ‘true to their oath’ to reach out and help people living in remote areas such as Baingangaon in Bihar, Patan in Gujarat, rural Tamilnadu or Uttaranchal. On their own.

Four doctor-couples in Ganiyari, Chattisgarh helped make healthcare a reality for the villagers in the area. Drs. Regi and Lalitha Thomas are helping make healthcare sustainable and reach more people by turning adivasi villagers into community health workers in the villages of Sittingli, Tamilnadu. There are several others that are profiled as part of the series.

They toil on without much recompense, other than “two juicy cucumbers or a plump river fish for having operated … a bull gore injury, a ruptured intestine or a motorcycle accident?” They innovate and ‘make do’ using sterilised mosquito netting as a cheap alternative to expensive prolene mesh for hernia repair. They are the pioneers and the unsung heroes of India’s medical fraternity that stays true to their oath.

While the call is for increased spending on the rural medical system and infrastructure, what good is that without the doctors to provide the care? The hope is that as the Government gets its act together around this, the lives and sacrifices of these doctors would serve as an example for the 29,172 doctors that step out of medical colleges this year.

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