As India gears up to fight the Coronavirus pandemic, the healthcare sector of the fastest growing economy is subject to the scrutiny of the masses. While the doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel form our first line of defense against the virus, the lack of infrastructure and manpower to support these healthcare providers become more blatantly obvious.
The Global Burden of disease study of 2016 ranked India 145th among the 195 countries in Healthcare Access and Quality (HAQ) Index with a score of 41.2, against a global mean value of more than 60. While this was a remarkable improvement from previous years, it is not substantial to cater to the second most populous country in the world.
In the current scenario, shortage of healthcare professionals and beds for patients, understaffed hospitals, undersupplied protective equipment, limited number of COVID tests and restrictive reach can translate into severe losses for the country. Years of low public investment in this sector has denied a large population access to quality healthcare. An urgent need to redesign this system keeping quality and affordability in mind is imperative.
India needs a detailed plan to reform this sector in the short and long term. Prime Minister Modi has sanctioned ₹ 15,000 crores to aid the health sector, most of which will go into emergency plugging during the pandemic. A report published by Invest India estimated that the country would need approximately 38 million masks and 6.2 million pieces of personal protection equipment in order to fight the virus. Apart from making provisions for the virus, serious investment is Infrastructure and resources both materialistic (ventilators, gloves, coveralls) and human capital need to be made.
Post the pandemic, India needs to start looking at human capital as a important resource. If the virus were to be viewed as an external threat to the country, the doctors and medical staff would form the first line of defense. Thus, investments need to be made in this field keeping in mind that this is now a case of national security and we must do everything we can to protect ourselves.
AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
India needs to facilitate reach and access to the public. Quality healthcare should be available for all the citizens of the country. This includes reaching out to rural areas, villages, smaller towns and encompassing these people under an umbrella big enough to cater to their healthcare needs. The asymmetry lies in the fact that in Urban areas, people get to choose between private or government hospitals for treatment whereas in rural areas, there is limited treatment available let alone a variety of institutions for the same.
Affordability of healthcare is a major concern. After making the facilities available, the government also has to focus on making it affordable for the masses. This will require long term planning and careful allocation of funds in this sector.
Public and Private Sector
The uncertainty brought about by the virus has negatively impacted the economy of the country. The gap between public and private healthcare system needs to be bridged. In order to provide medical aid to a population this large, these two sectors need to join hands and work collectively towards a common goal. For example, the Coronavirus test kits and treatment procedure is fixed at a rate in government hospitals to cater to the masses and make treatment affordable. The same treatment would cost higher along with stay and ventilator costs to name a few at a private facility. This discrepancy can be eliminated if these institutions were to work together.
The vulnerabilities in the health sector have resulted in a much more immediate lockdown imposed in India than other countries and is delaying our return back to normal circumstances. All the above shortcomings can only be overcome if there is reform in the way India allocates its resources in this field, especially regarding infrastructure and manpower requirements. Human capital is our most essential resource, heavy investment in the education of the youth today will prove to be our biggest asset tomorrow.
We must strive to do better and improve the system for the progress of the country. The healthcare sector comprises of one of the most important sectors in the Indian economy and required investment must be made to aid it in whatever way necessary. After all as we grapple to flatten the curve, it is our healthcare professionals that strive to restore the patients to better health.