For Ashish Yechury (1986-2021), journalist.
It’s hard to overstate the hold COVID-19 has over India. WhatsApp is full of messages about this or that friend and family member sick with the virus, while angry messages about how the central government has completely failed its citizens are increasing rapidly. This hospital is running out of beds, and this hospital no longer has oxygen, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet dodge the problem.
Thirteen months after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the world was in the middle of a pandemic, the Indian government continues to stare straight into the problem like a deer in the headlights, unable to move or to move. act while moving closer to the impending disaster. While other countries are well on their immunization programs, the Indian government is resting and watching a second, possibly third wave land heavily on Indians.
On April 21, 2021, the country registered 315,000 cases within a 24 hour period. This is an extraordinarily high number. Keep in mind that in China, where the virus was the first detected at the end of 2019, the total number of cases detected amounted to less than 100,000.
This tip raised eyebrows: is it a new variant, or is it the result of a failure in the management of social interactions (including the 3 million pilgrims who collected at this year’s Kumbh Mela) and to attract enough people vaccinated on time.
Either way, at the heart of the problem is the complete failure of the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Modi, and its inability to take this pandemic seriously.
A glance around the world shows that governments that failed to follow WHO guidelines, regulations and warnings have suffered the most from COVID-19. Since January 2020, the WHO has called on governments to insist on basic hygiene rules– Hand washing, physical distance, wearing a mask, etc. – and later make suggestions on testing for COVID-19, as well as contact tracing and social isolation.
Insisting on basic hygiene rules does not take enormous resources. The Vietnamese government, for example, has taken these recommendations very seriously, resulting in a slower spread of the virus.
The Indian government has acted very slowly. On March 10, 2020, the Indian government had reported around 50 cases of COVID-19 in India, with infections doubling in 14 days. The first major act Prime Minister Modi’s response to the virus, was a Janata 14 hour curfew. A dramatic act, but not fully in line with WHO recommendations.
This ruthless lockdown, given with just four hours’ notice, sent hundreds of thousands of workers on the road at home, penniless, some even dying by the side of the road, and most carrying the virus with them to their towns and villages. Prime Minister Modi executed this lock without check with his own services, whose advice might have warned him against such a hasty and truly unnecessary act.
Prime Minister Modi has taken the whole pandemic lightly, with no regard or respect for the science behind the WHO’s suggestions and recommendations. He even urged people to light candles and bang pots at one point, hoping to use the noise to scare off the virus.
There was no national policy that could be found on any of the government websites. In May and June 2020, the lockdown was extended, although it made no sense for the millions of working-class Indians who were still going to work, surviving only on their daily wages.
A year after the start of the pandemic, there are now 16 million people in India with detected infections, with 185,000 people confirmed dead from the pandemic. You should write words like “detected” and “confirmed” because mortality data in India during this pandemic has been totally. unreliable.
Consequences of privatization
The consequences of the transfer of health care to the private sector and the underfunding of public health have really been felt. For years, advocates of public health care, such as the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, called for more public spending on public health and less reliance on profit-driven health care.
These calls have fallen on deaf ears.
Indian governments spent very little on health—3.5% of GDP in 2018, a figure that has remained the same for decades. India’s current health expenditure per capita, by purchasing power parity, was 275.13 in 2018, around figures from countries like Kiribati, Myanmar and Sierra Leone. This is a very low number for a country with the kind of industrial capacity and wealth of India.
India only has 5.3 beds for 10,000 people. In China, for example, they have 43.1 beds for the same number of people. India only has 2.3 intensive care beds per 100,000 people (compared to 3.6 in China) and only 48,000 fans. China had 70,000 ventilators only in Wuhan.
The fragility of India’s medical infrastructure is entirely due to privatization, where private sector hospitals run their system on the principle of maximum capacity without the ability to handle peak loads. Because this would mean additional capacity in “normal” times, the optimization theory in private hospitals does not prepare the system for crises. No private sector will voluntarily develop excess beds or excess fans.
This only worsens the crisis in the event of a pandemic. Low health spending translates into low spending on medical infrastructure and low salaries for medical staff. Truly a bad way to run a modern company.
Vaccines and oxygen
Shortages are a normal problem in any given society. But India’s shortages of basic medical supplies during the pandemic have been downright scandalous.
India has long been known as the “pharmacy of the world” as the pharmaceutical industry sector has successfully reverse engineered a wide range of generic drugs. It’s the third largest manufacturer in the pharmaceutical industry. India accounts for 60% of total global vaccine production, including 90% of the measles vaccine used by WHO, and India has to become the largest producer of pills for the US market.
But none of this helped during the crisis.
COVID-19 vaccines are not readily available to Indian citizens despite being produced locally. Indian vaccinations will not be complete until November 2022.
In addition, a new government policy will allow vaccine manufacturers to increase prices, but will not force them to produce the vaccine quickly enough (India public sector vaccine factories are idle). No large scale rapid supply is on the horizon, there is also not enough medical oxygen and the promise of capacity building has been dissatisfied by the ruling party.
March 25, 2020, Modi said he would win this Mahabharat—This epic battle – against COVID-19 in 18 days. Today, more than 56 weeks after that promise, India is more like the bloodstained fields of Kurukshetra, where thousands of people lay, the war not even half-time.
Independent Media Institute
This article was produced by Globetrotter.