Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Health, Development and Human Rights in India

The improvement in the indices of health and development for India has been incredible. Yet for millions hunger is routine and the loss of their livelihoods not newsworthy. While medical services impact the health of individuals, the factors associated with longevity of populations are social and economic.
Education and sponsorship which determine access to work contribute to occupational inequality, which, in turn, leads to socioeconomic outcomes. These sequences operate as a cycle of relative socioeconomic privilege and deprivation transmitting inequalities from one generation to the text.
In fact, health and economic development are dynamically interlinked. Low-income countries have poor healthcare facilities. On the other hand, a high proportion of the population with ill health breeds poverty as these societies lack the basic tools such as medicine, fertilizer, credit, etc., to move out of deprivation through development.
However, the relationship between economic development and income inequality takes the form of an inverted U-turn. Income inequality increases during the early phase of development when the main mechanism of growth is the increase in physical capitals and the fact that resources are allocated to those who save and invest. During later stages of development, this inequality reduces on account of mass education, rural-to-urban and agriculture-to-industry migration and also due to social policies of Governments of mature economies which invest in human capital. The income inequality during the early phase, in fact, exacerbates poverty.
However, rising inequality will eventually put pressure on the Government to rectify the situation using the high incomes attained in the later stages of development. The disparities, as is currently happening in India, tend to split society.
Vulnerability to Ill-Health
The World Health Organization (WHO) has argued that health and human rights are inextricably linked. Violation of human rights can have serious health consequences. Vulnerability to ill-health can be reduced by taking steps to protect such rights (rights to healthy education, housing and freedom from discrimination). It argues that we need to apply a human rights-based approach to health care.
Nevertheless, human rights largely remain the concern of specialist lawyers in the country. In recent years, however, there is increased recognition in the public health community that human rights provide a useful framework for ensuring the conditions in which people can be healthy.
Improvement in health care has been an important part in the overall strategy for socioeconomic development over the planning period. Significant demographic changes and epidemiology shifts have occurred but the health scenario in India is still at crossroads with a wide gap between demand and supply of health services. Some measures of success have been achieved on the communities diseases especially in the case of tuberculosis and leprosy in the case of vector borne diseases, concerted efforts are being made both the Central and State Government under the program while under AIDS, the major strategy has been to build up infrastructure and go in for targeted interventions.
As far as development is concerned, the vibrant economy is a reflection of success of India’s middle and upper classes. They form the engine which is driving the country’s development and evoke the image of a shining India. The hope is that the growth of the economy will also uplift the poor, albeit in a trickle-down effect. While poverty based on headcount has reduced, deprivation, defined as the disparity between base and mean consumption, is increasing in the country.

Model for Human Rights
In the present situation, human rights have attained a new meaning—an accepted phenomenon now. But the irony is that everything encompassed by the motion of human rights is subject of controversy.
India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN in 1948, just a year after the country attained Independence. It signified the new republic’s resolve to follow the path of democracy, which would ensure human rights to its citizens, despite doubts expressed by leading statesmen of developed democracies about the success of such an experiment in India.
India’s venture was unique in many respects. Democracy was adopted in many countries after completing the phase of industrialization with the launching of the first Five-Year Plan in 1951, and soon after held a general election, on the basis of adult franchise.
Many advanced western nations introduced women suffrage and voting rights to all citizens much after the India did. India has the most diversity in the world—religious, linguistic and racial—united under a democratic set-up.
Yet, threats to individual freedom are formidable. Religious intolerance, caste tensions, regional chauvinism, terror threats, detentions without trial, poverty amidst plenty, crime against women, custodial deaths, corruption in public life and attendant evils constantly violate human rights.
The promise that India had initially showed in the field of human rights and the type of democratic institutions it has evolved, has won it international recognition. For these reasons, it was elected a member of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, which had replaced the Commission on Human Rights in June 2006 by securing 173 out of 191 votes of the UN General Assembly, the maximum number of votes.
The rights of the poor can never compete against the might of the rich. The huge toll on the underprivileged during the initial stages of development needs to be factored into the country’s economic planning. Macroeconomic policies which protect sectors of the economy which are not able to face the sudden opening up of markets and a phased and carefully planned changeover.
The promotion of the healthcare, social and economic right of the poor is the most important human rights struggle of our times. We should think about human rights in the context of India’s public health. It needs to be realized that a higher standard of human rights is in the best national interest. India need not search for a model elsewhere. It should aspire to be a model for others.

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