Is Public Healthcare In India Adequately Prepared To Handle The Coronavirus Pandemic? - Homegrown

Is Public Healthcare In India Adequately Prepared To Handle The Coronavirus Pandemic?

Officially called COVID-19, the disease originating from the Wuhan province of China, has escalated to epic proportions all over the world within a very short span of time. Speculations regarding the exact way in which the virus got transmitted to the human body is a topic of heated debate at the moment. However, conspiracy theories suggesting that the virus does not have a natural origin, and is a man-made product created in the laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is a claim that has been severely disputed. On the other hand, Chinese officials and news outlets have pushed out a new theory suggesting that the coronavirus has been introduced by members of the United States Army who had visited Wuhan in October. Such random speculations do not however help citizens of affected countries in any way, merely spreading unnecessary conjecture and panic. At the same time, mitigating anxiety and promoting false consolation through the dissemination of incorrect information regarding the number of coronavirus cases reported is also an ineffective measure in combating the disease.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India has reported a total number of 114 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1 death across the country, as of March 16, 2020. Among the Indian states, Maharashtra has been the worst affected with 32 reported cases, followed closely by Kerala and Uttar Pradesh. However, according to Time magazine, some experts say that India (a country of more than 1.3 billion people) likely has far more cases than the conservative numbers currently being reported. Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute tells TIME that the count is “just not right.” He further adds, “I’m deeply worried that there’s a lot of community transmission and we are just not aware of it because there is not widespread testing.”

As per the health infrastructure data (provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in its annual National Health Profile reports) scanned by the India Today Data Intelligence Unit, the prognosis of the coronavirus health crisis does not seem very promising.

Four basic parameters analysed by the India Today Data Intelligence Unit include the number of hospitals and public healthcare centres in India, number of allopathic doctors, number of nurses and midwives and number of hospital beds. Following, is a breakdown of the healthcare challenges in India, as analysed by the India Today Data Intelligence Unit.

I. As per the 2011 Census, India’s population rests at 1.25 billion people. According to the National Health Profile 2019, India had roughly 26,000 government hospitals, which include those run by the central, state and local governments. Therefore, for every 1 lakh people, there are merely 2 hospitals (i.e. 1 hospital per 47.000 people).

II. Data shows there were a total of 1,16,757 allopathic doctors in India, which means one doctor for every 10,700 people.

III. The per capita availability of basic hospital infrastructure such as nurses, midwives and hospital beds was found to be low. The total number of registered nurses and midwives in government hospitals was around 20.5 lakh, which means one nurse for every 610 people.

IV. Around 7.13 lakh beds are available in India’s 25,778 government hospitals. This means there are hardly six beds for every 10,000 people.

The statistics show a grim picture, and it is time we see things as they are, instead of alleviating the urgency of the narrative. Such an attitude might help us address the problem head on, and with the urgency the situation demands. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has pushed out certain measures that can be undertaken to prevent the spread of the pandemic, which include guidelines to states/Union Territories for quarantine, a detailed travel advisory, helpline numbers for assistance, a helpline email id, and norms of assistance from State Disaster Response Fund (the primary fund available to state governments for responses to notified disasters). It has also declared masks, including N95, as well as hand sanitizers as essential commodities till end of June, thereby ensuring their availability at reasonable prices. The Ministry has also put restrictions on mass gatherings until the spread of COVID-19 is contained. Besides these, several guidelines regarding the prevention of the disease have been put up on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website, along with a comic book for children (Kids, Vaayu and Corona) promoting the same. The comic book strives to educate kids about the virus and sums up its causes and symptoms in just 22 pages.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body in India for the promotion of biomedical research, has put out a list of 52 laboratories in government-run hospitals, that are capable of administering the test for coronavirus. Besides these, the ICMR has also enabled 57 medical facilities for sample collection.

Travel restrictions extended by the Indian government include the suspension of all existing visas until April 15, with the exception of diplomatic and employment visas. All incoming travellers who visited China, Italy, Iran, Korea, France, Spain or Germany after February 15th, would be quarantined for at least 14 days, before they are let in.

Despite all the precautionary measures taken to prevent the spread of the disease, the prognosis of the situation is far from satisfactory. One of the chief reasons for this is the citizens’ utter mistrust of the public healthcare system of the country. A woman who had returned from Europe and was held in quarantine after her husband tested positive for the disease did not want to remain in a public healthcare facility in Agra because of the unhygienic conditions prevalent there. A similar situation was seen when Mumbai resident Ankit Gupta posted pictures of unsanitary conditions in the city’s Kasturba Hospital, which is acting as the city’s isolation ward. Navya Dua, a citizen of Delhi, complained about unhygienic sanitation in an isolation ward at the national capital.

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