With Covid-19 continuing its global havoc, reminiscent the massive loss of lives during Second World War, experts are only beginning to size up the range and depth of the economic recession that it has already trigerred. As of now, no one is able to precisely predict its impact, the sectors it will jolt and to what extent.
Although the spread of Covid has not become as severe in India as in many developed countries of the world, the country cannot afford to scale down its seriousness. It is with this realisation that the central government extended the lockdown until 3 May and issued orders to tighten the curbs in severely affected red-zones. But it needs to be admitted that what we are experiencing today is also a penalty for the long-term neglect and inefficiency in health sector.
The fact that the health care of the 130 crore people in India has not been given sufficient attention by any government of free India, is proved both by statistics and by experience hitherto. True, India can claim can it is a leading producer of certain categories of medicines and that countries inlcuding even America have had to depend on it for some drugs during the time of Covid. Regardless of that, it calls for a confession that in the domestic front, in the matter of setting up enough hospitals and treatment facilities and in making them accessible to the majority of common and poor people, the country lags far behind.
Even if the reputed hospitals of metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkatta are considered, governments can be found to have failed miserably in making available required equipment for doctors, nurses and para-medical staff for use against pandemic. This is vouched for by the grievance raised by them on a daily basis. And cases of confirmed Covid infection in health workers involved in its treatment including doctors are increasing constantly.
Nurses from Kerala are the major victims of this negligence; several hospitals had to be closed at this critical juncture due to the infection of health workers. Can this pandemic be tamed by merely making loud calls around the clock to the people to wash their hands, wear masks and sit at home? Why is it that the Centre and state governments could not put in place adequate infrastructure, equipment and trained doctors and other staff to use them effectively? In the case of Kerala, it was only because ample attention was paid to those aspects and necessary steps taken that the state was able to become a model for the country and the world too, in the matter of Covid prevention.
A clear index of the neglect of health sector inIndia is provided by the allocation for health in the annual budgets. Suffice is to say that India has set apart just over one percent of its GDP for health care. At the same time, in the United States, which is the most hit by Covid, its health care budget is eight per cent of the total. That may be one reason why the relatively rich and those who can backcharge the state for their treatment, fly to America from time to time for specialised treatment.
But the fact that the US could not contain the spread of Covid has more to do with the lo-sided politics of its president. It also needs to be noted that the defence budget of that military power, is 3.1 per cent of GDP. And what of the defence budget of India? It is 2.4 per cent of the national GDP. Thus when Kamal Haasan, the founder president of of the Makkal Needhi Maiam points out that at least in this hour of crisis, the government should give health care a higher priority than for military spending, that voice cannot be discarded. But other than the country's war-mongers and hyper-nationalists screaming to silence him, there is no point in hoping that the Modi government will be prepared for a rethinking.
Kamal's suggestion could be seriously considered without weakening the defence preparedness at all, but by achieving transparency in spending. In the current situation with the Covid threat still lingering all over the world, there is no prospect of an immediate war before us. And it is a clear fact that the chief enemy will be nowhere near India in the matter of defence preparedness. At least by recognising the simple fact that only with an India of healthy men can any attack can be bravely thwarted, health care sector should be given its due share in post-Covid national reconstruction endeavours.