Objective: This paper aims to empirically demonstrate the size and composition of the private health care sector in one of India's largest provinces, Madhya Pradesh.
Methodology: It is based on a field survey of all health care providers in Madhya Pradesh (60.4 million in 52,117 villages and 394 towns). Seventy-five percent of the population is rural and 37% live below poverty line. This survey was done as part of the development of a health management information system.
Findings: The distribution of health care providers in the province with regard to sector of work (public/private), rural-urban location, qualification, commercial orientation and institutional set-up are described. Of the 24,807 qualified doctors mapped in the survey, 18,757 (75.6%) work in the private sector. Fifteen thousand one hundred forty-two (80%) of these private physicians work in urban areas. The 72.1% (67793) of all qualified paramedical staff work in the private sector, mostly in rural areas.
Conclusion: The paper empirically demonstrates the dominant heterogeneous private health sector and the overall the disparity in healthcare provision in rural and urban areas. It argues for a new role for the public health sector, one of constructive oversight over the entire health sector (public and private) balanced with direct provision of services where necessary. It emphasizes the need to build strong public private partnerships to ensure equitable access to healthcare for all.