COVID-19 has only exposed India’s miserable healthcare system, which has been long existing before the pandemic hit India. The negligence in making healthcare our national priority has practically led to its collapse.
These unprecedented times have brought to light the shortcomings of India’s Healthcare System, which has proven to be highly ill-equipped to manage such a devastating public health crisis. From unavailability of proper PPE for the protection of healthcare workers to absence of well-managed testing systems, the healthcare arena is practically crumbling under the pandemic’s pressure. Government hotlines fail to respond, testing requires standing in long queues, even for days and the hospitals are full. Social media is rife with horror stories of people being denied hospital admission despite showing life-threatening symptoms, patients dying in hospital care even after having no symptoms and negative tests, doctors themselves being unable to get medical care on time, private hospitals asking for large sums of money as advanced deposit before admitting a patient, health workers fainting from exhaustion and overwork. These stories are mainstream now due to the pandemic, but they were some people’s reality even before the pandemic.
It might seem like Coronavirus is single-handedly responsible for the overload on the system, however, fault in India’s healthcare system have long preceded the virus. Public healthcare is technically free and subsidized, but the quality of care provided in government hospitals is subpar. These hospitals are not only over-crowded, but also under-funded and under-staffed. On top of that, hospitals are usually situated far from residential areas and if you’ve ever seen the reception area of Safdarjung Hospital, you would know what the waiting time to get an appointment is like. Families set up camp on ground to wait in line for a consultation that will probably last two minutes, and chances are, the staff, including the doctors, are going to be rude and unsympathetic.
My family and I have been in and out of hospitals for all our life, on account of my mother being a paraplegic, my grandmother being diabetic and having dementia, my father and I being asthmatics, and the experience has always been highly unpleasant. We have seen them all: government hospitals, private hospitals, army hospitals. Everyone detests a visit to the hospital and nobody is willing to go to there unless the condition is extremely severe.
If this is the position of healthcare in urban settings and more so in the capital of India, we can only imagine the realities of people in rural India. Majority of public healthcare system exists to cater the rural population of India, however, poor quality of care deters access, which comes from the reluctance of experienced healthcare providers to station in rural areas. Hence, healthcare system in rural and remote areas rely on inexperienced and unmotivated interns who are mandated to spend time in rural clinics as part of their curricular requirement. Hospitals are even farther away from residential areas in rural regions. Doctors are unwilling to practice there due to several lacking factors such as housing, basic amenities like water and electricity, education for children, transportation etc. There are over 14 million doctors in India and only 26% serve the rural population, which makes up over 70% of India’s populous.
The flaws in our healthcare are more than we think or know. Factors such as socio-economic standing and caste determines the quality of healthcare you might get. Healthcare providers are not well compensated, protected and given personal benefits. Some doctors run private clinics while also working in the hospital. Nurses are neither respected, nor paid well. Government spending on healthcare in India is just over 1 percent of its GDP, far lower than the global average. According to the data from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, India has only 0.5 hospital beds per 1000 people. These numbers are scary for a country with a population of 1.37 billion that is already prone to poor-hygiene diseases such as malaria, dengue, dysentery, jaundice, and what not. Even now, there is very little ground coverage and people are getting their information from social media and celebrities like Amitabh Bachhan, who is obviously being treated “very well” by the hospital staff.
There is much work that needs to be done in order to improve the healthcare system of India. There needs to be a dialogue about how the healthcare system treats middle class and lower class people as second class citizens. Hopefully, the pandemic has opened the eyes of the public and office holders, so that we can expect some necessary changes.
Nidhi is a student pursuing English Honors from Jamia Millia Islamia.
edited by: Nuzhat Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.