COVID-19 is here to stay, it’s time to make healthcare a priority and invest in it

On the 67th day of lockdown, we have moved up to be the ninth worst-affected country due to COVID-19. We have 1.65 lakh cases, with 71,106 recoveries and 4,706 deaths, and the actual number of infections could be much higher as our testing rates are meager. With the COVID cases on the surge, Maharashtra is inching towards 60,000-mark, which is a major concern along with Mumbai being the worst-affected city with over 35,000 confirmed cases. On Sunday, India reported 8,380 new cases in 24 hours, and it is an alarming situation.

The government had made tall claims that trains are being converted into isolation wards but the scenario on ground is in stark contrast to such claims. The public hospitals and private hospitals have made beds available for COVID patients but this is far below the numbers we need. I am equally worried about non-COVID but chronic or emergency patients, and how are we tackling those diseases?

Many cases/incidences have come up in the past few days stating that hospitals are not admitting many non-COVID patients, and this is creating panic among people while many patients are losing their lives. In a recent incident in Telangana, after many private hospitals refused to admit a pregnant lady fearing that she might be COVID infected, she finally found one place that took her in where she gave birth to a stillborn and she succumbed to death as well. The mother and child both could have survived had she got the treatment at the right time. If hospitals are not taking patients, where should they go? There must be a number of patients dying ‘for COVID’ and not ‘of COVID’!

On the other hand, patients who are COVID-positive are not getting admission to the hospitals due to the unavailability of beds! So, whether you have COVID or not doesn’t matter, the availability of bed is a serious issue.

Recently, a 64-year-old COVID-positive patient in Mumbai had breathing difficulty and his family took him from Kasturba hospital to Seven Hills, to Nair hospital and all of them conveyed unavailability of beds. The patient’s family tried to reach out to the BMC via a helpline number but received no response or support from the government and police officials. They sat outside the Nair hospital. Just imagine being a COIVD-positive patient sitting outside a private hospital unattended may infect other people around. Also, we are trying to fight COVID, but is this the way of dealing with this disease? Finally, after trying to reach out to various close friends and subsequently their friends, the family was able to get admission in one hospital.

The Maharashtra government has come up with a 1000-bed hospital but if the BMC or the local police are not fulfilling their duties and not reverting to emergency calls, will this hospital be able to handle people in the times of need? Also, if providers are available but there’s no equipment, how would the treatment be delivered?

Several hospitals are short of equipment required for treating these patients, and many have placed an order with a reputed company for getting equipment like ultra-sound and various parts to be delivered. But the warehouses are shut and need permission to allow the workers to work for the same. The company is trying hard to get from the government. These types of equipment are essential for hospitals to cater to care and treatment of COVID patients. A delay in providing the equipment would cost many lives.

We can even see how a public hospital in Sion, Mumbai, is forcing patients to share beds and oxygen cylinders are being shared! Is this the preparation we have done to address this pandemic with the government claiming that lockdown was to give time to prepare?

If the government plans to move patients to private hospitals, are we equipped to handle non-COVID patients and COVID patients together under one roof? Will it be a bane or boon for the citizens of this nation?

COVID has laid bare the reality that India lacks a robust healthcare system and that is the primary reason why most of the people who can afford healthcare outside the country prefer to get treatment abroad. Be it film stars, politicians, or the cricketers, they all preferred healthcare outside India in the past and would continue to do so.

Whatever is available in the country, for that also one needs a ‘connection’. If one has a connection with the right people, he/she might avail services at the right time. But the thing to ponder here is how a common man will avail these timely services as they do not have connections. There have been incidences where without connections, nothing moves! What kind of a system is this?

India needs a robust healthcare system to tackle such pandemics. The public and private hospitals need to work in sync to cope with COVID. Many hospitals are being shut down due to a staff or a doctor being COVID affected. But what is our alternate strategy to cope with this disease for the sake of the patients already there in such hospitals?

The government needs to collaborate with private hospitals in such a way that they do not suffer due to the crises that emerged during this lockdown. The government should pay the dues and support the private hospitals monetarily to curb this pandemic. As we all know that private hospitals are in crisis and COVID has just aggravated the situation, the government should strategies and call for a meeting with private healthcare providers while making sure that no patient is turned down amid this situation.

The lockdown may get lifted but Coronavirus is here to stay for some more time, and we need to be cautious and careful in all that we do. Also, time to make healthcare a priority and invest in it. There is no shortcut. COVID has shown that we have lost more lives due to COVID than of COVID itself. This is a call to action.

The pandemic is far from over and we need to strategise for a fool-proof plan to tackle the emerging situation. God forbid, If the situation turns like New York, will India be prepared? It’s time for action!

(Mevish P Vaishnav is a policy professional currently Vice President (Policy) at HealthCare Global Enterprises & Vice President – Government Industry Dialogue – an initiative to bridge the divide between Government and private sector. Views expressed are personal.) – Outlook India

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