Are charity hospitals the only hope for India's poor?

Sun Feb 21, 2010 10:41pm EST
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By Sujoy Dhar KOLKATA, India (Reuters Life!) - Thirty years ago, vegetable seller Subhashini Mistry watched her husband die from gastroenteritis, a common, treatable disease, because their village had no medical facilities and they were too poor to travel to the nearest clinic.

But this tragedy, which happens on an almost daily basis in India's teeming, impoverished rural areas, has a happy ending: The Humanity Hospital that 65-year-old Mistry built for the poor, paying for it brick by brick through her modest income.

Located on the southwestern outskirts of Kolkata, the facility provides prompt treatment for a very small cost.

By working in roadside tea stalls to washing coals, the woman with no formal education did everything she could to educate her children and build the hospital which now boasts of three floors, 35 beds and a well-equipped surgery room.

The hospital started in 1993 with a single-bed located in a thatched hut.

"Mostly the poor come here. We charge a token fee for their treatment," said Mistry's son, Ajay Kumar, a medical doctor.

"This hospital is our only hope," added 60-year-old Aruna Mondal, one of the villagers who visits the facility.

Hospitals such as Mistry's and other charitable medical facilities are often the only alternative to government-funded healthcare system that is ill-equipped, overstretched and still lags behind India's booming economy.

A report by children's welfare group Save the Children blamed poor public health facilities for the annual deaths of nearly 2 million children under the age of five. Surveying 14 developing countries, the same report ranked India, Asia's third largest economy, 171 out of 175 countries in terms of public health spending.   Continued...