Access to Healthcare

The provision of free medical care to the poor was looked on as part of a king's duty to protect his subjects, which was generally interpreted in a positive sense (Caraka, i. 30.29; see also the background essay in vol. 1, pp. 254-264 of P. M. Mehta's translation). From the days of the benevolent Buddhist emperor Asoka in the third century b.c.e., the better rulers of India responded in some measure to this responsibility. Medical clinics of one kind or another, where professional doctors provided free services to the poor, existed in many cities. These were sometimes supported by the states, but others were often financed by private charity. In South India especially, hospitals and dispensaries were often attached to the great temples. Medical services might have been subsidized by doctors themselves, for they were encouraged to treat the poor, learned Brahmans, and ascetics without charge (Susruta, i. 2. 8; vi. 11. 12-13). Free medical services in South and Southeast Asia, however, were more extensive in Buddhist Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

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