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Indian GDP Will Thrive When The Investment In Public Health Is Boosted

The interim period was not used to scale up the dying infrastructure, and the healthcare system continues to be in absolute shambles with lack of beds, shortage of oxygen and trained personnel, lack of testing facilities etc.

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It was 6 am yesterday when I got a series of messages from the owner of one of the largest Covid hospitals in New Delhi. “Do something. We have oxygen left for barely a few hours”, he implored. On Tuesday, as a moderator in a talk show on the prevailing pandemic, the CEOs of leading hospitals asked for help for the availability of oxygen on time for their patients.

Left with no option, hospitals approached various High Courts to supply oxygen, the lack of which is leading to massive misery and mass deaths. Delhi, itself has seen around 245 deaths due to a complete collapse of our public health fabric in the past 24 hours. Oxygen levels are so low, that not even an hour’s worth of oxygen is left in some hospitals. When one realizes that not only Covid but non-Covid patients are also affected, the situation takes on ghastlier proportions.

So, with this kind of an embarrassing scenario, one of the largest economies of the world wishes to march towards the future? Although, India is a developing nation and the U.S. has, in fact, declared India to be a developed economy yet the images that are coming-in from various cities are not so different from those of the third world countries like Syria or Sub-Saharan Africa and in view thereof, the confidence of ordinary citizens of our country has hit an all-time low.

Bodies, dead or dying on the footpath, such that cremations and burials are happening at a fast rate to overwhelm crematoriums and burial grounds, and yet the political class conducts rallies with chilling disdain. With less than 100 vacant ICU beds in Delhi, a terrifying situation has arisen as the administration itself seems to panic. The condition is alarming to a degree that in some cases, even two to three patients are made to share a bed.

The pandemic, a year and a half ago, came as a shock to the entire world with no country, as such, prepared to deal with it. However, with the resurgence of the virus, countries like Singapore, Germany and South Korea, among others, were well prepared to tackle the second wave. Aggressive testing, partial lockdowns and sealing the country from the rest of the world to reduce imported infections were few methods adopted by these countries.

India, however, seems to have learnt zilch from its past experience with Covid. The first wave of corona itself saw the healthcare system on the verge of a collapse. Despite that, the attitude of complacency and indifference among the administration and authorities is outrageous for the common man. After all, the country had a year to plan for basic amenities such as oxygen, but still we are scrambling all over to get it today.

Unfortunately, the interim period was not used to scale up the dying infrastructure, and the healthcare system continues to be in absolute shambles with lack of beds, shortage of oxygen and trained personnel, lack of testing facilities etc.

Let us ask ourselves, how did it come to this?

The answer lies in our pitiful expenditure on healthcare industry which also affects a country’s overall economic growth. Let us look at some examples of countries who spend a high percentage of their GDP on healthcare and how well they are dealing with this crisis.

For instance, Switzerland’s expenditure on health is 12.2% of its GDP, and consequently, the country was declared as the safest country during the pandemic, as well as navigating the situation well. Thus, it is not surprising that Switzerland has the second highest GDP in the world. Such high expenditure on health is seen across other high-income countries as well, like Chile, New Zealand and Korea where spending is between 8-10% of GDP.

Israel, having the 20th highest GDP in the world and spending almost 7.5 % of its GDP on health, has managed to vaccinate the majority of its population within a strict time frame. Recent images from Tel

Aviv city where large groups had gathered to celebrate festivals and generally continue to live in the manner that they wish to have brought about envious glares from other nations.

India should, however, learn from Bhutan where the situation is different. It is categorized as a least developed country but it’s expenditure on healthcare has continuously risen over the years. It now spends about 3.06 % of its GDP on healthcare. It’s not surprising then, that it has done a commendable job in controlling the pandemic with only 983 positive cases and merely 1 death!

Considering that our mandate was to be a welfare state, then we have failed spectacularly on that parameter. Of course, India is a heavily populated country but that does not excuse our apathy in providing basic health amenities to the people. It is shameful that only around 1.6 % of its GDP accounts towards health expenditure, much lower than that of even Bhutan, which is a tiny nation.

To fulfil the dream of a five-trillion economy, it becomes imperative to ensure that public health infrastructure is strengthened, both in terms of expenditure incurred as a percent of GDP, and penetration of health facilities in areas that are bereft of them. The pandemic, and the stress it has put on our fragile health system, is a wake-up call for the nation. Now more than ever, there is an acute need to focus upon equitable and affordable health-care system by leveraging public as well as private players.

In any case, when we have the largest cricket stadium in the world, large steel plants, oil refineries, the most robust information technology business outside the country, what stops us then, to spend at least 3 percent of our GDP on public health infrastructure? Is it not unfortunate that Pakistan is sympathising in disbelief while witnessing our oxygen wars, while China with its offer to help is rubbing it in?

Within a year from when the pandemic is over and gone, we must create 30 hospitals of 1000 beds each with adequate oxygen supply in the same way we constructed our national highways to the disbelief of the world. Evidently, the GDP only smiles when the state of healthcare apparatus does not limp or languish

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Sudhir Mishra

The author is Founder and Managing Partner, Trust Legal.

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