Veteran journalist P. Sainath highlighted the widening inequalities in the State while addressing a People’s Health Assembly held in Mumbai on Tuesday. The keynote speaker said Maharashtra, a State known for its wealth, also has the maximum number of farmers suicides and malnutrition-related deaths in the country.“Privatisation of water and medical services will have disastrous consequences on health,” Mr. Sainath said, adding that the rights to health and to drinking water should be recognised as fundamental rights.More than 200 people, including activists, doctors and patients, gathered for the People’s Health Assembly organised by the Jan Arogya Abhiyan — a State-wide network of civil society organisations — to put forward their demand for a Right to Healthcare Act for the State. “Maharashtra’s public health system was once said to be the best. But today, States like Rajasthan and Chattisgarh are spending more on healthcare than Maharashtra,” said public health activist Dr. Abhay Shukla, who is also the co-convener of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan. According to Dr. Shukla, the State is in dire need of a Right to Healthcare Act that guarantees comprehensive health services for all in rural and urban areas. “Private sector amplifies the inequalities. The poor get very little healthcare while the super-rich get the most. But a good public health system acts as an equaliser,” said Dr. Shukla, adding that health should be on the political manifesto.Below average spendingHealth activist and researcher Ravi Duggal said the State spends merely ₹975 per person per year on public health as compared to the national average of ₹1,563. States like Kerala spend almost double the national average. For a system of universal healthcare, the expenditure needs to be increased to ₹3,000 per person per year, said activists.An activist from Kolhapur said the State has been suffering from acute shortage of essential medicines in its public hospitals over the past few years and patients visiting primary health centres (PHC) and rural hospitals are often asked to buy medicines from outside. Vanita Papad from Purandar district said that many women in her village suffer from diabetes and hypertension. “The local PHC only gives one drug for diabetes and lacks facilities for sugar and blood pressure monitoring. Many women have lost a foot, developed cataract or kidney failure due to uncontrolled diabetes,” she said.