Poor health infrastructure in West Bengal; Muslims worst affected

By Sabir S. Ghaffar,

India is looking forward to becoming a Developed Country by 2020. However, its aim of being a developed nation would necessarily encompass its Health Sector as well, the condition of which can be judged by looking at an important state like West Bengal.

Support TwoCircles

If we look at Germany, it is one of the 8 most developed countries in the world. The population of Germany was 8,22,70,000 in 1998 and in 2003 the population of West Bengal equaled that of Germany. Thus West Bengal should have had 30,00,699 health practitioners, 8,26,923 nurses (B.Sc) and 9,698 midwife nurses. Moreover, there should have been an arrangement for 72 beds per 10,000 population (which is the least population in a Gram panchayat of West Bengal). But West Bengal’s poor health infrastructure can in no way be compared to that of Germany.

If India is to become a developed nation, it must aim for the health infrastructure as in other developed nations.

Kerala and West Bengal

Kerala’s progress in development of health infrastructure is praiseworthy and worth emulating amongst all the States in India. If a state like Kerala with very less revenue from very limited Industry can progress so much that its Health Sector can be nearly compared to that of any developed country, then how come a state like West Bengal, whose industrial revenue touches 1.5lakh crore, be so backward?

In 2001, 11.4% of rural people in Kerala did not get Health service prior to death, while in West Bengal the figure stood at 85.3%.

Health Model in Gram Panchayats

In West Bengal around 5-25,000 people reside in each gram panchayat. In a gram panchayat area with an average population of 15000 people, at least 30 nurses, doctors, health assistants along with 30 beds are required which is not fulfilled in most cases.

The health sector being in such poor condition in rural West Bengal, has severely affected the Muslim Minority community in particular as 83% of Muslims reside in rural Bengal.

Muslims of West Bengal are the worst affected of poor health-care in the state. [TCN Photo]

Children’s Nutrition

In 2004-2005 Mid day Meal Scheme for school going children has benefited 35.6% of SCs and STs and 33.3% of Muslim children. However, in Karnataka 42.8% of Muslim children and in Himachal Pradesh 39.7% of Muslim children have been benefited from the Mid Day Meal scheme. Thus in West Bengal, the percentage of Muslim children being benefitted from this scheme is not only behind those in other states of India but also behind the percentage of SC and ST children in West Bengal being benefitted under this scheme.

Moreover, Government recognized Madrasas in West Bengal have not been included in the Mid day Meal Scheme and as a result the weight of Muslim children is very less due to malnutrition.

Arsenic Contaminated Ground Water

West Bengal has the world’s largest case of Arsenic contamination of ground water along with Bangladesh. Around 3000 villages are affected by this menace which leads to several deadly diseases.

Thalassemia: In West Bengal, 5000 Thalassemia affected children are born every year. But treatment facilities for this disease are available only in Kolkata and Bardhaman Medical College. Thus from Toofanganj to Purulia, many people affected from this disease are deprived of this treatment owing to financial constraints.

Heart Diseases: 10% population in the cities and 5% population in rural areas of Bengal are affected by heart diseases. In a gram panchayat of about 15000 populations, at least 950 people are affected by heart related diseases. At least one heart specialist is required in every gram panchayat of West Bengal and at least one heart specialist for every 7000 population in cities. This requirement is far from being fulfilled.

Life Expectancy: In West Bengal cities average life expectancy is around 68 years (2001). In Kolkata it is 74 years while in Howrah, it is 73 years. It should be noted that in spite of pollution, the life expectancy is high in Kolkata and Howrah due to improved health infrastructure. However in Malda life expectancy is 55 years, in Murshidabad 59 years, in Coochbehar 55 years and in Birbhum 57 years. These are minority dominated districts with the least life expectancy. Here the health infrastructure is poorest. 35% of Muslims in rural Bengal have a life expectancy upto only 50 years of age.

Women: Men ratio: In India the population of Males surpasses that of females by 10 crores. In India, there is 933 female for every 1000 males. In 6 years, there will be 927 girl children per 1000 boy children. However, amongst Muslims that will be 950 girl children per 1000 boys, and amongst Muslims of West Bengal it will be 968 girls per 1000 boys. In Kerala it will be 956 girls and other communities in West Bengal will have 960 girls per 1000 boys.

Presently in West Bengal districts like Kolkata for every 1000 boys there are 828 girls, Howrah (909girls:1000boys), Bardhman (921girls:1000 boys), North 24 Parganas (927 girls:1000 males). In Kerala for every 1000 males there is 1058 females.

The ratio of girl child to male child is low due to prevalence of girl child abortion. Amongst Muslims in West Bengal the female: male ratio is higher due to their religious beliefs which forbid killing of girl child. Moreover it has been seen that girl child abortion is prevalent most amongst economically strong states and communities as we can see in case of Chandigarh (773 girls per 1000 boys), Punjab (874 girls per 1000 boys) and Haryana (861 girls per 1000 boys).

Livelihood Related Diseases: It has been mentioned in the Sachar Report how Muslims especially in West Bengal are deprived from education and Government jobs and look for employment as unskilled labourers and artisans.

These unskilled labourers are made to work in extremely unhygenic environment and as a result are affected by many diseases like malaria or diarrhea. There are many Muslims who work as construction labourers and fall down from tall high rise buildings, either getting paralysed for life or face instant death. However, there are no government hospitals and schemes/insurances to provide assistance to them.

Big populations of Muslims work in small tiny leather factories in extremely unsafe conditions. Many a times labourers are burnt to death due to inadequate or absent fire safety regulations in these tiny one room factories.
Also, thousands of Muslim women and children are employed in bidi weaving works, who suffer from lung diseases.

Therefore livelihood related diseases and accidents among Muslims are prevalent, but the government has hardly looked into these matters.

Pulse Polio Vaccination

A big section of the Muslim Population boycott Pulse Polio vaccinations due to a number of other reasons apart from the religious taboos.
• There is a widespread belief that such vaccinations will make them impotent.
• Due to opposition from a section of local maulvis
• Due to inadequate experience of health officials giving the vaccination, children develop blisters or boils around the area of vaccination. The local health centre or health officials have no cure for this and the poor villagers need to run to ojhas or local quacks to relieve their child from the pain. When the ojhas and quacks fail, the poor villagers need to visit a doctor in Kolkata which is a strain on their finance and they also lose time for labour for earning.
• Due to less awareness of the gravity and danger of illnesses and diseases
• Villagers boycott such campaigns as a symbol of protest to government apathy towards neglecting their demand for drinking water, ration and below poverty line cards, etc.
• Many a times health officials use threat of police if villagers refuse to participate in such campaigns which lead the villagers to adopt a resistant mentality towards such campaigns.

Initiatives Needed

To create a new developed India, health services must be given foremost priority which includes proper nutrition, clean arsenic free drinking water, developed sewerage system, regular health awareness campaigns, proper living conditions for the poor etc. Special plans must be implemented for development of minority dominated districts as well as proper living conditions must be ensured. Health Insurance schemes must be launched and more and more of rural poor especially minorities must be brought under its gambit. Health infrastructure needs to be improved and made affordable and accessible to the poor villagers. Proper vision, efficient administration, able and willing Government is required to bring in the required impetus for development of West Bengal and the living conditions of its poor, women, children, adivasis and Muslim minorities.


population did not get Health service prior to death

of SCs and STs and 33.3% of Muslim children benefitted from Mid day Meal Scheme
(2004- 2005)

Thalassemia affected children are born every year in WB

population in the cities and 5% population in rural areas of Bengal are
affected by heart diseases

life expectancy in WB is 68 yrs but in Malda is 55 yrs, in Murshidabad 59 yrs,
in Coochbehar 55 yrs and in Birbhum 57 yrs.

of Muslims in rural Bengal have a life expectancy upto only 50 yrs


Children in west Bengal suffering from low weight on birth

Comparison % wise

Less Weight Child(0-71months)

Extremely less weight children







Children detected with anaemia In West Bengal Comparison %wise





Pregnant Women in West bengal suffering from anaemia Comparison %wise





Source: Reproductive and Child Health Survey (2002-2004), International Institute For population science, Mumbai 2006

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])