National Planning Committee Series (Report of the Sub-Committee): National Health
This report by the National Planning Committee’s Sub-Committee on National Health was published in 1947. The National Planning Committee was formed in 1938 with Jawaharlal Nehru as its chairperson. It had 29 sub-committees, “…to deal with all parts and aspects of the national life and work in accordance with a predetermined Plan.” The Sub-Committee on National Health was chaired by Col. S. S. Sokhey (a biochemist born in 1887 in Amritsar, a military physician in World War I, the assistant director general of the World Health Organisation from 1949 to 1952, and a Rajya Sabha member from 1952 to 1956).
The sub-committee was asked to examine the standards of diet and nutrition for all classes of India’s population; the nature and incidence of various epidemics and ways of preventing them; the incidence of infant mortality and mortality among women; the provision of necessary health units, comprising of physicians, nurses, surgeons, hospitals, dispensaries, sanatoria and nursing homes; health insurance; medical training and research; the compilation of vital statistics, including birth and death rates; the cultivation and production of necessary drugs and medicines for preventive or curative aid; and other connected problems.The report contains 10 appendices; Appendices I-VIII are written by members of the sub-committee, and cover such themes as medical training and research (Appendix II), a ‘Rural Co-operation Health Service’ (Appendix III), infant mortality and mortality among women (Appendix IV), finances for health programmes (Appendix V), the production of drugs and medicine for preventive and curative aid (Appendix VI and VII) and rural sanitation (Appendix VIII). Appendix IX is a compilation of vital statistics on public health in India; and Appendix X is the report of the 'Medicinal Preparations Sub-Committee’, appointed by the Indian Chemical Manufacturers' Association in 1939. Appendix I is missing from this report.
At the time of writing this report, there were about 73,000 hospital beds for the treatment of diseases in British India – that is, 0.24 beds for every 1,000 people. In England and Wales, notes the report, there were 7.14 and 10.48 beds for every 1,000 people, respectively.
In the United Provinces, one institution providing health services covered about 105,626 people distributed over an average number of 226 villages. This, the report says, was typical of all other parts of India.
The report advises that medicine be organised as a State activity and that medical aid of all types be provided to people free of charge. This, it notes, will ensure the efficient coordination of different health agencies.
The report observes that India had “…no health organization worth the name” at the time. It states: “Our resources are exceedingly meager. This factor imposes the necessity of building up our organizations in the cheapest manner possible: yet the organizations must be all embracing and must at least make a beginning in taking care of the health needs of the country.”
The pharmaceuticals industry, notes the report, did not meet the requirements of drugs in India. The country also lacked, the report observes, in the production of medical and surgical instruments, and other hospital equipment.
Common ailments that affected the people of India included malaria, plague, leprosy, blindness, tuberculosis, infant and maternal mortality, venereal diseases, cholera and cancer. This, notes the report, considerably diminished the ‘working efficiency’ of the population.
The normal life expectancy at birth in India – according to the report – was less than half of that of the United Kingdom and the United States, which were more industrialised countries.
The per capita income in India was around Rs. 6 to 7 per head per month – states the report. In the UK and US, it was Rs. 90 to 100 and Rs. 110 to 120 respectively, per head per month.
According to Census 1931, the population of India increased by 34 million or 10.6 per cent between 1921 and 1931. The report notes that the area of land under cultivation did not increase in the same proportion during this period.
The sub-committee recommends that no individual or firm – Indian or foreign – should be allowed to hold patent rights for the preparation of any substances useful in human or veterinary medicine.
Trade statistics in British India for the years 1937-38 and 1938-39 showed that India imported medicinal drugs and chemicals worth Rs. 5 crores. This, the report states, indicated that there was considerable scope to expand the drug and chemical manufacturing industry in the country.
Focus and Factoids by Vaishnavi Rathi.
Sub-Committee on National Health (Chairman: Col. S. S. Sokhey), National Planning Committee
Government of India