Infectious disease is one of the most common causes of death in India. It is responsible for a vast swathe of hospital admissions and can cause lifelong medical complications pushing many into poverty. However, it has recently been revealed that despite, harbouring a population exceeding a billion, India has only fifty infectious disease specialists.
This was brought to light at the seventh annual conference of the National Clinical Infectious Disease Society (CIDSCON) in Maharashtra. The conference was held in the state’s winter capital Nagpur – a city home to two million people, which was found to have only two infectious disease experts.
One of these Nagpur experts, Dr Ashwini Tayade, is in such high demand (due to the low number of doctors specialised in her field) that she travels the country assisting local physicians. NagpurToday reports on the travelling doctor as a matter of local pride. However, her being forced to travel does underline a key issue in India — the staff shortages in healthcare, primarily a lack of doctors.
The announcement that only fifty individuals in India are specialised in investigating infectious disease makes it apparent that medical specialists in many areas are left unaccounted for. It is not a reasonable expectation that fifty doctors could provide a high level of healthcare coverage across a country of 1.3 billion people. Malaria, chikungunya, the flu and encephalitis all fall under the infectious disease bracket. All present a significant challenge to public health in India.
The field of infectious disease as a medical specialty has, until recently, been largely ignored in India.Dr PH Chandrasekar, educational coordinator for Department of Infectious Diseases at Wayne State University, Detroit, USA, says “Infectious disease is still a young branch in India. In U.S., it was introduced in 1960. In India, only AIIMS Delhi and CMC Vellore have started offering Doctoral courses in infectious diseases recently.”
Another area left understaffed is in the investigation of hospital acquired infections (HAIs) — another matter that falls under the expertise of the small number of infectious disease specialists in India. It is also an issue that is endemic in India. In the wake of the Gorakhpur tragedy, and the media focus on laxed hospital regulation, many are now focusing on the prevalence of HAIs.
Over 1 lakh patients die every year due to HAIs. This is only according to official figures, notes Dr Chandrasekar. He believes the figure is considerably higher, and is being underreported due to hospitals fearing calls of negligence. He notes that medical students in India are not taught the importance of sterile environments nor the dangers of the potential this causes for the spreading of disease.
As one of the most common causes of death in India, the field of infectious disease needs more emphasis placed on it, particularly in the medical education system. With greater emphasis on hygiene, and more opportunity for specialisation within the education system, the underwhelming numbers of doctors focused on this area may see their ranks swell.