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Healthcare Sector in India: A public debacle

Is a detrimental public policy, which came into existence in the 1990s, responsible for the current debacle of the healthcare sector in India during the second wave of the pandemic in India?

It’s indeed a million dollar question raised by the economic experts of this nation today.

The self proclaimed corporate sectors of the country, from the beginning of this decade, have tried to bolster the process of industrial growth, paving the way for more liberalised economic reforms to benefit the corporate’s personal gains.

Such strong influence of the industrial sector on India’s governance has compelled the government exchequer to neglect and reduce budgetary allocation on the primary healthcare sector in particular and the overall social infrastructure in general.The main aim of such a preferential corporate policy was a direct result of the Modi government’s irrational aspiration to become a 5 trillion dollar economy, at any cost, by the end of 2025.

Now coming straight to the basics of a most carelessly managed COVID situation, at present, the daily infection rate from the corona virus is almost 400,000 (4 Lacs) per day, with daily deaths amounting to more than 4500 cases, as per the official data released by the country’s health ministry. There are allegations from different corners of the nation stating that the actual death and infection rate is much higher than the government reports. Some sort of complacency was noticed from the government from the last 9 months till February 2021 when the official case reporting was very low, around 8000 cases per day. Then, the government was busy organising the Kumbh Mela ( religious festival) in the state of Uttarakhand, bringing about 3 million Hindu devotees from across the length and breadth of the country at one place; not to mention the political and election rallies in 5 states declaring the victory of India and the government over COVID-19.

Instead of acting judiciously, placing orders to the vaccine manufacturing companies, salvaging oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies for the inevitable second wave, the country’s higher officials, individuals holding key portfolios including our honourable “supremo” Mr. Narendra Modi, was engrossed in political campaigning and rallying for his party, meanwhile talking all the credit for the handling of the COVID and manipulating the common masses in the name of free vaccines.

Epidemiologists, scientific analysts, doctors, including the major opposition political parties like the Indian National Congress and Aam Aadmi Party were constantly poking the government to get its attention on impending second wave and its disastrous consequences on India’s healthcare sector.However, all went futile and remained in vain at the courtesy of Mr. Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. The nemesis which was feared by everyone, wreaked havoc across the country. The second wave of the pandemic exposed the broken carcass of India’s healthcare structure which totally collapsed under the pressure of the second wave.

While observing the vaccination policy of the country, it seems, the approach of the government to apply it as a prudent tool against the pandemic was simply callous and casual. So far almost 100 health advisories have been issued by the health ministry. Officially, vaccination was started in the month of January 2021. Initially, the senior citizens and the front line COVID workers were included. Later on age groups above 45 years of age were targeted. Up to this point, the vaccination programme was going on through a systematic process. However, all of a sudden, as a populistic measure described by the opposition, the government declared vaccination for all above the age of 18 years. India has a youth population of about 300 million. Without proper planning of a systematic vaccination policy to execute along with a partially induced vaccine crunch, it literally paralyzed the country’s vaccine drive. From the last 9 months when the rest of the countries were busy procuring vaccines, India’s health minister trumpeted in front of international media, the victory of the Indian government over the pandemic. Mr. Narendra

Modi also adopted a gung-ho vaccine exportation policy without having required numbers to meet its home demand. India had practically bet on Adar Poonawalla Serum Institute being completely ignorant about the WTO protocols and other obligations that the largest vaccine manufacturer had tied itself up with.

Presently, there is a severe vaccine shortage in the country. A small state of 100 million is receiving around 2 million doses per week, though the number varies. Moreover, in this second wave the Indian youths are getting mostly infected by the virus. It may have a serious future impact on the human resource of the country. In between three divisive price procurement policies of vaccines have been accorded by the Central government. India has become the first nation which has compelled its allied states to collect vaccines directly from the global manufacturers through global tenders. How insidious is it that the caretaker of a country is asking its states to buy vaccines from the global market through competition with other countries and global players. Moreover, even domestically produced vaccines are sold at a higher price to the state than to the central government.

Economic parameters of the country since one year is not very glossy. The health of the world economy is also showing sluggishness. But in a country like India, where most of the people are dependent on the informal sector, the magnitudinal afflictions are more acute and stiff. Apart from it political turmoils, allegations and counter allegations among various state government and the central government are giving birth to a scenario of major social tension and restlessness among the common masses. It is really confusing and difficult to access how and when we are likely to get out from the horrendous dire scenes of the COVID pandemic.

Indian Philosophy and Society

Bijon Chakraborty

Bijon Chakraborty is a socioeconomic and political observer and an academician. He is also the Secretary Of North Bengal Economic Association and Founder of BIJONOMICS.