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Give doctors incentives to stay

New Delhi–The Medical Council of India (MCI)’s latest figures point out a problem area for India – a brain drain of doctors. India has just one doctor for every 1,700 people, while the global ratio is one doctor for every 670 persons. It’s estimated that 60,000 Indian physicians work abroad, and the MCI says 767 more doctors left this year, till July 27. The potential for improving India’s doctor-patient ratio by retaining more medical personnel is obvious. But the best way to do so is not by making it tougher for trained medical professionals to make their living elsewhere; it is by giving them incentives to stay.

This can be done by providing financial incentives and improving working conditions, to cite just two possible measures. Vast swathes of rural India lack access to even the most basic healthcare. Why not provide adequate financial compensation to incentivise doctors to apply for such postings? Improving the condition of government health facilities – notoriously lacking in many states – is another way. Doctors move abroad not just in search of better compensation but also out of frustration at being unable to do what they are trained for due to a lack of proper infrastructure.

The problem also needs to be addressed from another angle – boosting the effectiveness of the supply chain that produces doctors, nurses and technicians. The higher education sector in the country is decaying and in urgent need of reform. That affects medical institutions too. There is no need to see the number of doctors in the country as a zero-sum game. We should produce more of them, and welcome it if some travel abroad and come back home with enhanced skills. Build the institutions, and they will come.

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