Legal wastage

Like unending peels of an onion, misery upon misery is unfolding for the unfortunate victims of Covid-19 who are gasping for critical care. Distressing reports of many life-saving ventilators lying unpacked and unused in hospitals across the country aggravate the traumatic experience that Covid patients and their kin are going through. Right from Mohali and Muktsar in Punjab to Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat and Maharashtra, the story is similar: ventilators are lying unused at some government hospitals for lack of infrastructure/technical manpower, even as patients are rapidly succumbing to the infection that has assumed a fiercely virulent form in the ongoing second wave.

That medical supplies crucial for tertiary care should gather dust exposes the abject apathy, appalling negligence and callousness of the healthcare system. Crores of rupees were spent on the procurement of medical equipment last year in the wake of the first wave of the pandemic. Ventilator manufacturers had risen to the occasion and ramped up production capacities. By June, the government had pumped in Rs 2,000 crore for supplying 50,000 ventilators to government-run Covid-19 hospitals across the country. But the devices are lying idle with the makers as there are very few takers in view of the inadequate strength of technicians. The dearth of breathing apparatus underscores the gross mismanagement.

While it makes sense, for example, for the Mohali and Muktsar government hospitals to pass on the ventilators to hospitals that can make optimal use of them, it also raises some questions. Pertinently, considering the prohibitively high cost of private hospital ICU beds, what proportion, if any, of the respiratory apparatus given to the private hospitals is reserved for poor patients? Why are public hospitals, especially in smaller towns, so understaffed, lacking in trained hands? How does the equipment land up in places that are not equipped to handle it? Has anyone been held accountable for such wastage of meagre medical resources?

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