Better healthcare facilities and medical research have once again proven to be the need of the hour as they determine our tomorrow
The Coronavirus has taken the world by storm and its severity has exposed the gaps in the global public healthcare systems, making it one of the hardest pandemics to cope with. No matter how developed a country is, true development only comes when there are ample strategies to safeguard citizens from such maladies. Effective governance during pandemics often includes preparedness, efficient response and effective recovery on a national and international level. In this context it will be pertinent to mention the Global Health Security Index that measures the pandemic preparedness of nations on a score of one to 100, based on their ability to prevent, detect, mitigate and cure diseases.
The 2019 index ranks India at 57 out of 195 countries, indicating that we may be more vulnerable than China (at 51) and Italy (at 31), which have seen the highest number of Coronavirus related deaths till now.
The time has come for India to embrace this global pandemic as nothing more than a wake-up call. With thousands affected in the country and globally, it is time that we upgrade our healthcare standards, research and so on for a healthier tomorrow. In fact, global healthcare expenditure is also assumed to increase from $7.7 trillion to an approximate $10 trillion, by the end of this year.
India has been a forerunner in multiple economies and yet, today we see that our doctors are ill-equipped to handle the pandemic due to a lack of facilities and other provisions.
If a flawed public healthcare strategy is one reason for the country’s vulnerability, the lack of resources is another major one that needs to be rectified. At 3.6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), India’s overall health spending is among the lowest compared with other nations in the neighbourhood. We can’t even begin to compare ourselves with developed nations. Of this, Government spending on health accounts for a paltry one per cent. Consequently, out-of-pocket health expenditure for households is extraordinarily high in India. About 65 per cent of all health expenditure in the country, which comes to around 2.5 per cent of the GDP, is borne by households.
Hence, life after this pandemic should not be the same as this calls for a dire need to change priorities, especially where national healthcare facilities and expenditure are concerned. Hopefully this is one of the lessons that the Government has learnt from the current pandemic.
But we don’t always have to look at other nations to learn our healthcare and pandemic handling lessons. We have enough examples to learn from within the country. Take Kerala for instance. The State, which ranked second for the most COVID-19 casualties reported initially, has now reached the stage where its recovery rate is higher than the mortality rate. This proves that ensuring the safety of citizens is being accorded a higher priority than anything else at the moment. The authorities have simply flattened the curve by creating a contagion route map, which they had developed while battling the 2018 Nipah virus outbreak. Moreover, what worked for Kerala is the extensive testing of symptomatic cases, followed by a diligent method of contact tracking and then investigating the root cause of where the person contracted the disease.
In another scenario, the eastern State of Odisha was the first to impose a full lockdown and also the first to extend this shutdown to April 30. Being one of the most natural-disaster prone areas in the country, crisis management drills were already in place as they had declared the COVID-19 a disaster like the 1999 super-cyclone that hit them. Moreover, exclusive hospitals to treat COVID-19 affected patients and also free medical treatment resulted in its quick and professional demeanour to tackle and contain the virus.
While these States have resulted in a big win for the country, the big fight against the contagion and recovery, lies ahead. The economy of the nation is slowing and it is only fair that we overcome this pandemic at the earliest to save it. We are in the third phase of the lockdown and we have devised a “cluster containment strategy.” It is imperative that we implement this strategy as soon as possible.
Till now, India has the upper hand in tackling this pandemic but the country needs to pick up pace. This outbreak is a lesson as to why the Government can no longer ignore the importance of medical research and development. As a member and representative of the Indian healthcare sector, most importantly as a citizen of India, I am overwhelmed by all that remains to be done.
If one were to look back on earlier times, infectious diseases were more or less a burden in developed countries till the mid-20th century. While this gradually declined due to higher and improved standards of living along with proper sanitation and hygiene, the dawn of antibiotics further lowered this threat in the years between the 1940s-1950s. Growing awareness that germs caused disease and the consequent investments in public health systems involving disease surveillance played a bigger role in improving life expectancy than gains in income.
Yet, the improvements in healthcare systems were not uniform with some developing countries like India lagging behind others in improving their public health systems.
Also, poor hygiene, antibiotic resistance, poor nutrition and awareness are some of the major reasons why developing nations like ours are suffering from an increased disease burden today. In fact, the cost of such inaction was quite high even before we were struck by the Coronavirus. Deaths from contagious diseases in India are much higher than the global average, as data from the Global Burden of Disease Study shows.
Apart from this, the acceptance of globalisation and the resultant “brain drain” is one of the other major reasons why our country is struggling at present. Research is one of the only aspects that can bring this country forward, in any field. Unfortunately this is a highly neglected sphere. One of the lessons that COVID-19 has taught us is that we need to rectify this error as fast as possible.
If we had the facilities for cutting-edge research like the ones Israel and the US invest in, we would have been ahead in our fight against the pandemic as Indians are some of the best researchers on the planet.
This pandemic has not only alarmed people globally but has also opened our eyes as to why the fight for survival is the only fight we need to be focussing on now and beyond this time. Better healthcare facilities and medical research have once again proven to be the need of the hour as they determine our tomorrow. And for a country like India, there is no better opportunity than now.
We have always thought of the future but the future is only made if the present is strong. The Indian healthcare industry has a long way to go when it comes to matters regarding research and technological progress. Apart from this, bureaucratic red-tapism and policies are all against progress. This has to change. What was once predicted to be the era of bio-economy in 2030 has now magnified our present scenario, making it the only essential need globally. Working towards developing a bio-economy will be the only factor for survival of mankind in the near future.
(Writer: KM cherian; Courtesy: The Pioneer)