According to NCRB data for 2014, various kinds of illness accounted for 18% of suicides during 2014, whereas bankruptcy or indebtedness- considered a major reason behind farmer deaths -accounted for only 1.8% of suicides.
Experts say there is an urgent need for the government to increase spends on public health, develop a robust health policy to make tertiary healthcare services affordable as well as increase awareness and preventive care measures. On the contrary, policy interventions are mostly focused and limited to addressing farmers’ debts because of its political importance.
“There is a need for public health policy along with resources to expand public healthcare,” says Amit Sengupta, co-convenor of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a public health advocacy movement. Sengupta points at the lack of awareness around chronic diseases, mental illnesses as well as absence of public healthcare facilities to address the disease burden.
States like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, where the rate of farmer suicides is high at almost 30%, also account for a significant number of suicides due to health problems. While only 5% of all suicides in these states are due to debt or bankruptcy, illness accounted for 26.2% and 21.5% of in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra respectively.
Punjab, Andaman and Nicobar, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Kerala also have high share of suicides due to poor health, according to the data.
Mental illness was a major cause for suicides contributing to 7104 deaths during 2014. However, other critical diseases like cancer, AIDS and paralysis also lead to suicides. According to the data, cancer accounted for 582 suicides, whereas AIDS and paralysis were responsible for 233 and 408 deaths respectively.
According to Sengupta, the estimates, though conservative, are an indication of people without access to treatment. India’s spend on healthcare has been criticized by various international agencies as it continues to remain one of the poorest performers in terms of healthcare spending as part of GDP as well as in terms of providing public healthcare services. Most people in India, including those in rural areas, continue to go to private hospitals for treatment.