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New minister says corruption "eating into" India healthcare

Corruption is "eating into" India's overburdened healthcare system, the new health minister said in an interview published Friday, promising a "thorough clean-up".

NEW DELHI: Corruption is "eating into" India's overburdened healthcare system, the new health minister said in an interview published Friday, promising a "thorough clean-up".

The remarks by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan came after the British Medical Journal published an article late last month alleging rampant corruption in India's healthcare system.

"As a doctor and former (state-level) health minister, I am more aware than anybody else of the corruption that is eating into the entrails of every aspect of governance, including the health system," Vardhan told the Indian Express newspaper in an emailed interview.

Vardhan called bodies overseeing medical education corrupt and the organisation overseeing drugs standards a "snake pit of vested interests".

"I have inherited a poisoned chalice. But a revolution is coming," Vardhan said.

He said "corrupt practices" had been exposed by several government agencies and Indian parliamentary committees in the past "so who am I to deny that it is going on?"

The British Medical Journal article by an Australian doctor who worked in an Indian hospital likened healthcare corruption in India to "a cancer" and said kickbacks and bribes oil every part of the country's healthcare machinery.

For years, stories have abounded in India of medical college places being sold to the highest bidder, drug supplies being diverted from intended users and patients forced to bribe hospital personnel to see senior doctors.

Critics also allege doctors and hospitals take kickbacks for referral fees and prescribing certain drugs and over billing.

The health minister was appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in parliamentary elections in May on a platform of good governance and faster economic growth.

"When the prime minister gave me this responsibility, I was conscious his objective of giving the people a world class and inexpensive public healthcare system would be impossible to realise without a thorough clean-up," Vardhan said.

"Corruption has to be rooted out and there are no (two) views on that," he said.

The corruption allegations come as the country of 1.2 billion battles a rising tide of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cancer cases are projected to rise by more than 20 percent by 2020, according to a government report released Thursday.

India is also lagging considerably behind development targets, infant mortality and maternal death rate, the health ministry said Friday.

India's public and private expenditure on health is the lowest among its peers in BRICS -- Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa.

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