The increased longevity of humans over the past century can be significantly attributed to advances resulting from medical research. Among the major benefits of medical research have been vaccines for measles and polio, insulin treatment for diabetes, classes of antibiotics for treating a host of maladies, medication for high blood pressure, improved treatments for AIDS among many.
However, India has made very little, if not next to none, contribution towards these researches. Why is it so?
The term ‘medical research’ roughly refers to an organized way to learn more about health in general, and also about better ways to prevent and treat diseases that already exist and diseases that are newly being found due to gene mutation, more effectively and efficiently.
According to analysts, much of India’s medical research is still concentrated in the clinical and epidemiological areas. These researches are mainly focused on the problems we are facing as of today and are only relevant to the Indian environment. But what we need to understand is that these medical researches aren’t just supposed to benefit or provide solutions for the prevailing issues but also for issues that we might face in the near or far future and help us as a nation be prepared for them. The saturation of research in limited areas isn’t the only reason why India is still moving slowly in the field of medical research.
Insufficient funding by the government is another major reason for the slow and inadequate development of medical research in India. Although the funding for research is set to rise by 16 per cent on the last year’s funds, which remained flat and nosedived for some departments, nearly a third of the newly increased budget is likely to be lost to India’s current inflation rate of 5 per cent. Inadequacy of funds directly results in small sums being dedicated towards new technology and new researches and majority of the sum going towards ongoing researches. “The disbursal of funds is also very slow and erratic. It often takes over a year for the money to start coming. Often by that time the idea becomes old,” Dr Anuradha Khadilkar, consultant paediatrician and deputy director at Hirabai Cowasji Jehangir Medical Research Institute (HCJMRI), Pune, told India Medical Times.
Lacking the ability to keep up with the new ongoing researches and new technology, also pushes Indian scientists on a back foot who want to do cutting edge, competitive medical research but are unable to due to lack of funds and technology. This is also a reason why Indian researchers aren’t able to contribute more towards medicine in the global world.
Another reason towards the slow growth of medical research is the lack of professionals in the research field. Due to the low amount of funds provided, the salaries of doctors working in the research field are much lower than of those working in the clinical fields, making it an uninviting profession.
However, government funding isn’t the only cause for inadequate medical research done by Indian researchers. India has a total of 579 medical institutions, 263 in the private sector and 316 in the public sector. Out of these 579 medical institutes, only 4.3% institutes provide more than 100 papers a year to contribute towards the ongoing researches. Studies also show that a majority (57.3%) of medical institutions did not even publish one research paper during the time of study. The states which had the largest number of private medical colleges fared the worst with more than 90% of the medical colleges in Karnataka and Kerala having no research publication at all. In comparison, the annual research output of the Massachusetts General Hospital was 4,600 and the Mayo Clinic 3,700. Even AIIMS, one of the best and leading research institutes in India, provided only a third of the above numbers.
Even though most private medical colleges now have medical research wings and many of them are trying to catch up with the current rate of medical research going on around the world, the numbers are still not up to the mark. Another reason for the poor performance of Indian research institutes may be because medical education has now become a business and there is little interest in research, which is not thought to be a profitable activity. Moreover, the scanty budget hike in medical research departments provides less incentive to the researchers to invest more time into new researches.
Low performance of the field in general also results in loss of funds from external sources. Since the sum required by the research field is huge, no one will be willing to put in that kind of money into something that is not performing well. Loss of funding and poor performance will also result in decrease in the number of future investors.
So how can this problem be fixed?
Increasing funding in the medical research department is the basic solution. Increase in funding will not only ensure research in new fields like ethology of diseases and genetics, but will also help in bringing in new technology to support those researches.
Another aspect that needs immediate attention is making the medical research field more appealing for the upcoming generation. This will not only increase the number of professionals in the field but will also provide incentive to the already established researchers to explore more and invest their time on new researches. This will not only help India come at par with the researches going on in more advanced countries like the US or the UK but also will also help India as a nation contribute towards the global medical scenario.
Introducing the requirement of a minimum number of quality research papers to be published per year will also push medical researchers and medical research institutions to research more and contribute significantly to the improvement of the current state of medical research in India.
The high quality of medical care we enjoy today is built upon years of efforts by physicians, physician-scientists, bio-medical researchers, and other medical professionals investigating the causes of and potential treatments for diseases. Contributing to their hard work and developing the state of medical research that is prevailing in India is the need of the hour.
by Vanshika Sharma