Transform Healthcare: Time to Reframe Health Communication Approaches in Indian Health System

Manisha Pandit

The onslaught of the Covid -19 (Corona Virus) has crippled the globe forcing all the countries hit by the pandemic to impose massive lockdown. Restricted movement for the purchase of essential items that too for a fixed time slot of three hours is only permissible by the administration across India to prevent community transmission of the deadly virus. Researches are going on in labs to develop COVID-19 vaccine and laboratories are coming up with Covid-19 diagnostic kits.

The fear around the pandemic led people in Iran to believe on a fake remedy of drinking methanol to kill the virus in their bodies, that claimed more than 300 lives there. Many old aged beliefs like ‘tying garlic and camphor in a piece of cloth and smelling it’, ‘consuming cow urine to boost immunity against Covid-19’, or ‘the religious clerics defining the pandemic as divine retribution’ is making rounds on social media. With such information being spread to a wider audience, what becomes important here is the ability to differentiate between myths and the evidence-based practices. This is where lies the role of Health Communication.

To bring in the social change, health communication in the past in India has played a pivotal role to eradicate polio and sensitize about HIV. However, concept of communication as a facilitator of health care remains ignored. To break the shackles around these social, cultural and economic indicators that rely on political decisions, communication efforts in healthcare can come to rescue.   Medicalisation of the healthcare has to go hand in hand with the concept of communication in healthcare, rather it is the communication that should precede medicalisation in health care. Communication doesn’t exist in vacuum. From encouraging people to adopt health behaviours (e.g. quarantine and physical distancing in the ongoing pandemic) to bring in new bills, policies and schemes (e.g. Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package: Insurance Scheme for Health Workers Fighting COVID-19), healthcare communication  has to operate under a complex system that requires strong political will with dedicated commitment from all the sectors. Communication interventions in the health care can yield positive results in minimum time only if it has a good grounding in communication as a discipline and not limiting it to a medium only. For communication to bring in the desired results in health care, an effective financing mechanism needs to be put in practice. However, it’s a grave matter of concern, how to make health communication get its due share within the health care budget that accounts to only 1.6% of GDP. The latest National Health Policy 2017 mentions the strengthening public healthcare delivery through the first locale point of care i.e. the primary health care centers (PHC), without realising the actual picture of PHC’s. PHC’s in India are struggling for basic amenities like water and electricity supply, staff toilets (India Today, Dec 4, 2019) [1] unfortunately making investments in health communication remain a farfetched dream. Healthcare delivery operates at two levels, one being clinical setting and the other the field setting. The service delivery in the clinical setting is dependent of the availability of the doctors and the paramedical staff, supply of drugs whereas the service delivery at the field setting comprises of generating awareness and sensitising the community to bring in desired behavioural changes. The health care workers in the field ensure that the care is accessible to all, where as in the clinical setting, the health care professionals aim to provide quality of care . In between this chain of service delivery, patient provider communication at the clinical setting and the skilled communication efforts at the field setting remain unexplored.

At both the levels it is important to stress on communication that can aid in bringing lifesaving health practices. The target of the healthcare system should not be limited to prevent mortality but also morbidity that is possible only with sustained communication efforts at the ground level which is possibly only if the health care professionals are trained rigorously on communication in health care by public health specialists and the communication officers who have an understanding of the interplay between health and communication. Complex Adaptive Systems Thinking is useful to understand different facets of healthcare for the laudable performance of the healthcare system after all “Prevention is always better than cure”.

1. Rawat, M. (2019, December). 4 yrs of Swachh Bharat but 38% govt hospitals in rural India don't have staff toilets. India Today . Retrieved from

 Manisha Pandit is presently doing her PhD in Department of Mass Communication and Electronic Media, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharmshala. A M. Phil in Media Studies, she taught in Jagran Lake city University, Bhopal.

Apr 18, 2020

Manisha Pandit

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