THE onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare some glaring ailments afflicting our health system. Remedial measures are needed so that we are better equipped to deal with the struggles that ordinary people had to bear as they were expected to deal with a stringent lockdown — not experienced by anyone in living memory — imposed to keep Covid-19 at bay. Ill-informed and panicky, the people were left to their own devices as businesses, transport services, hospitals (except Covid and emergency services) came to a halt. The situation, with little controls in place, was ripe for the unscrupulous to make a killing. The resultant loss of work and wages, overpriced and substandard drugs, including sanitisers and masks, and hoarding of essential goods broke many a back, poignantly marked by the long marches of migrant labourers. With the number of Covid cases spiralling and hospital beds falling short, the ugly face of the private health sector was exposed as they resorted to fleecing the needy. Gaps in health insurance exacerbated the disease-struck.
While these ills have been prevalent in our society, the scale and intensity of their occurrence have brought into focus the urgent need to update the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. Taking note of the sordid affairs, the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs has rightly suggested a comprehensive public health law to keep tabs on private hospitals, especially those that get land on subsidised rates, and black marketing of medicines. A relook into the steep cost of medical education that keeps the ordinary but deserving candidates out of the reckoning and leads to unprincipled practices is also called for. However, utmost care needs to be ensured that the checks do not end in the corruption-riddled inspector raj.
Luckily, not all is dark. The public sector hospitals kept the flag of the noble profession high, with doctors and paramedics bravely attending to Covid patients and the dead. It makes a case to highlight the oft-felt need of raising the budget for healthcare. The virus should goad the authorities to enhance the funds at once. The 1.15 per cent of the GDP in 2017 cannot meet the needs of 1.3 billion people.