The first Lok Sabha election in India after the unprecedented COVID-19 health crisis of 2020 and 2021 will be held in 2024, which will provide a great opportunity to INDIA alliance not only one of the most important campaign issues to promise enough healthcare access to all, but also to showcase their achievements in states ruled by them, such as in Rajasthan, Delhi, and Kerala.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led Centre still does not admit their failure and mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis that caused about 48 lakh deaths by the end of 2021 according to WHO study, and had put its own figure of deaths at only about 481,000. Most of the deaths occurred, on roads without access to any healthcare facility, without oxygen, without medical assistance by doctors and nurses. One of the reasons of not admitting the excess death was unwillingness to provide compensation due to failures of National Disaster Management. Unwillingness of the Modi government to proper compensation to the victims was witnessed even in the Supreme Court of India that ultimately ruled for compensation and the Centre has to agree, though on a meagre amount of Rs 50,000 ex gratia for all those who died due to COVID-19.
Health is a state subject and therefore all the states of the country were trying hard to save their citizens despite theirs being fund starved. Vaccines were introduced in January 2021, and then for several months Modi government tried its best to give more and more benefits to the private sector players both the producers of vaccines and the private hospitals to administer them, chiefly through allowing higher prices, and different prices for government and private hospitals. The move was resisted by the people and the opposition parties which finally compelled the Centre to keep the vaccination with government sector alone.
There was an allegation of corruption in allowing high prices for vaccines, and the related drugs for treatments. Unprecedented increase in prices of even essential drugs were allowed thereafter every year, which continued until the current fiscal 2023-24. Many of the drugs have become unaffordable for majority of the people of the country. According to the latest World Bank Atlas 97.3 crore people in the country out of a population of 142 crore are not able to afford healthy food. Obviously, they are slowly but certainly heading towards a severe health crisis related to nutrition.
A Lancet study made on the basis of the most recent National Family Health Survey has found that India critically off-target in 14 SDG indicators on health which included access to basic healthcare services, wasting and stunting of children, and prevalence of anemia among women. More than 75 per cent of the districts in the country were found to be off-target. Chief cause is obviously the failure of the Modi government not to provide enough food and healthcare access to the majority of population in the country, while trying to veil this ground reality under the deceptive tags of fastest growing, fifth largest economy of the world will be led to becoming a developed country by 2047 under the high sounding dream he is trying to sell in the name of Amrit Kaal.
Modi’s dreams have no meaning since the way he is leading the country, we can never provide even enough food to women to rescue them from anemia. The lancet study points out that wasting of children cannot be stopped before the year 2162, and target of preventing stunting of children could be achieved only sometime in 2041.
What COVID-19 crisis has exposed that India is not prepared to save the people of this country since Modi government is still not thinking in terms of financing the healthcare sector to provide enough access to the common people to healthy food, healthcare facilities, and affordable medicine. Entire emphasis is on private sector that treats over 66 per cent of the people in the country, which are unaffordable for majority of the people. Out of pocket expenditure on health is too high to afford. Indians pay 63 per cent of their medical expenses out-of-pocket which is highest in the world. A Brookings India study says that about 7 per cent of population in the country pushed into poverty every year due to high healthcare expenses. Modi’s Ayushman Bharat scheme comes in operation only for hospitalized patients. Majority of patients need access to healthcare and treatment without hospitalization who are not covered through enough support both financially or in terms of access to healthcare.
June 2021 NITI Aayog report had admitted that 30 per cent of population are devoid of any financial protection for health. Aayushman Bharat covered only 50 per cent, 20 per cent covered under social health insurance and private voluntary health insurance. All these coverages are too little and not very meaningful for over 90 per cent of outdoor patients in the country.
Congress led government of Rajasthan under CM Ashok Gehlot has recently made right to treatment as fundamental right of the citizen. It should be showcased along with the commendable healthcare facilities developed in the Nation Capital Territory by another alliance partner AAP led by CM Arvind Kejriwal, and the CPI(M) led LDF government in Kerala under CM Pinarayi Vijayan as also the Swasthya Sathi project of the chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Bengal. (IPA Service)