People's care seeking journey for a chronic illness in rural India: Implications for policy and practice

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Drawing on interviews conducted in 2019–2020, across twenty villages in India, this paper unpacks how people with chronic illness navigate complex care-seeking terrain. We show how the act of seeking care involves navigating through personal, family, social, economic, cultural, and most importantly, difficult health systems spaces—and entails making difficult social, moral, and financial choices. We show how the absence of reliable and accessible points of first contact for primary care results in people running from pillar to post, taking wrong turns, and becoming disappointed, frustrated, and, sometimes, impoverished. We reveal the complex individual and social dynamics of hope and misplaced and misguided expectations, as well as social obligations and their performance that animate the act of navigating care in rural India. We shine light on how a health system with weak primary care and poor regulation amplifies the medical, social, and financial consequences of an otherwise manageable chronic illness, and how these consequences are the worst for those with the least social, network and economic capital. Crucially we highlight the problematic normalisation of the absence of reliable primary care services for chronic illness in India, in rural India specifically. We signpost implications for research, and for policy and practice in India and similar health system contexts, i.e. those with weak primary care and poor regulation of the private sector. | We argue that in India, having in place accessible, good quality, and trustworthy sources of advice and care for chronic illness at the first point of call, for all, is critical. We contend that this first point of call should be quality, public primary care services. We conclude that if such arrangements are in place in public services, people will use them.