Personal hospitals fleeced sufferers: Home panel

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 21

All Indians must be vaccinated against Covid-19 and the government must create a mechanism in advance to check black marketing and hoarding of the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health has warned the government as the vaccine race intensifies.

In a comprehensive review of the national Covid-19 response, the committee said a sustainable pricing model to treat Covid patients could have averted many deaths. It lamented that “instances of patients being turned away from overburdened hospitals due to lack of vacant beds became the new normal during the pandemic.”

Says need a Strategy against bio weapons

  • Govt must create a mechanism to check black marketing of vaccine
  • Develop a strategy against biological weapons
  • Address the “abysmally low” public spending on health
  • Cap the price of oxygen cylinders & ensure availability
  • Increase testing by reliable RT-PCR technique
  • Create Indian Health Service; make available testing facilities in villages

“Amidst the uncertainty in Covid treatment protocol, India’s out-of-pocket expenditure of 62.4 per cent may have further driven many families below the poverty line. The number of government hospital beds was inadequate to handle the increasing rush of Covid and general patients,” said the panel, noting that the situation led to private hospitals heftily overcharging patients. In the report titled “The Outbreak of Pandemic Covid-19 and its Management”, the panel has said the Centre must address the “abysmally low” public spending on health and raise it from the current nearly 1 per cent of the GDP to 2.5 per cent in two years. The spending on health research should be increased to at least 1.72 per cent of the GDP, which was the global average, it said.

“The Unesco Institute of Statistics data shows that the US spends almost 2.84 per cent of its GDP on health research and China spends 2.19 per cent. India spent 0.67 per cent in 2017 and 0.65 per cent in 2018,” rued the committee.

In a significant comment, the committee has noted with concern the biological weapon potential of the Covid-causing Sars-Cov2 virus at a time when the world is debating its origins (manmade versus natural) and the WHO is reviewing the International Health Regulations.

“The committee agrees with the Department of Health Research that a holistic approach is needed for ensuring bio-security against biological weapons. The ministry should engage with agencies and actively participate in ongoing international treaties. We strongly recommend the ministry to conduct more research and work towards training and capacity building for management of public health emergencies arising out of bio-weapons,” said the panel.

On vaccine research the committee has called for the “highest level of ethical and procedural standards” and said “the ministry must follow a transparent approach so that any irregularity in the approval and production of vaccine was avoided; subsidise vaccine cost for weaker sections, rural areas and urban slums and be cautious about black-marketing and shortage of vaccines.”

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