Opportunity in adversity?
Amid the collapsed public health infrastructure, certain elements have found ways to garner undue advantage — often at the cost of people’s suffering
The way the Indian health infrastructure has responded to the second wave has raised several questions over the role of administrators in a populous country like ours. The current health scenario also questions our morality. Even before India attained freedom, Swami Vivekananda's most-admired speech on September 11, 1891 at the first Parliament of World's Religion in Chicago reflected the values of oneness of humanity, reflecting thereby the kindness, tolerance, rightful way of living life, and supreme morality. The pandemic has shattered these values to pieces and the degeneration of our civilizational values has reached its nadir in the way some people have been behaving in this difficult time. The leaders of the country must take note of this before we are labeled as a hypocritical nation in the world.
Black marketers and hoarders exist in every society across the world and India is no exception to this. These trends were earlier seen only in food items like onions and vegetables but rarely in the field of medicine. Such activities are rising with uncanny ferocity with the spread of private hospitals across India and the declining public health infrastructure. Private hospitals often claim that they are comparatively less costly than hospitals in western countries, but they fail to take into account the low average income of individuals in India. There are no monitoring criteria for these hospitals in India. These hire the doctors on a package that depends upon their potential to bring back revenue for the hospitals which further form the basis for perks and promotions. This is a vicious cycle as the character of the profession is fixed more on earnings rather than serving patients. The lure of money prompts young doctors to give costly treatment to patients to enhance the revenue of their hospitals.
The doctors are supposed to be wedded to the ethics of the Hippocratic Oath. This requires every new physician to swear, by several healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards and desist from deleterious and mischievous practices. Today these lofty ideals are given a go by many physicians and hospital owners. The hospitals are often owned by wealthy businessmen whose sole aim is to earn money at the cost of suffering patients; even the relatives of dead patients are forced to clear hugely inflated bills before the bodies are handed over. The private healthcare infrastructure, in some cases during this pandemic, has been taken over by the anti-social elements. Take the case of Remdesivir — an antiviral injection used for the treatment of Covid patients. Though this drug's efficacy in reducing the mortality rate among patients has not been proven, there is surprisingly a mad rush among patients as well as the hospitals to procure it. It suddenly vanished from the market and the trade was taken over by a cartel of pharmacy dealers, street hoodlums and hospital staff. The injection, originally costing Rs 2,000, was being sold to the desperate relatives of patients at Rs 40,000. This has been the situation all over India. The modus operandi is to tell the patient's relatives to procure from the touts hovering around hospitals. What is most painful to the conscience of the nation is that soon the gangs of people started producing fake Remdesivir injections by mixing salt in the glucose water and selling these at Rs 40,000 in Delhi and other cities. A gang was recently busted by the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh police, which had so far sold more than one lakh fake Remdesivir injections in India. Even the owners of big hospitals were involved in the racket. Now with the spread of Black fungus, suddenly its drug has vanished from the market. At a time when our country is in such a critical situation, and when all citizens should have come together to fight this dreaded disease, some greedy people are using the opportunity to mint money — the most despicable act. These savage vultures have shamed even the thugs of the British period and have sullied the name of Indian culture.
Now the question is how such miscreants are mushrooming in the country. The answer lies in our poor health infrastructure coupled with lack of surveillance by the regulatory authorities and negligence of health administrators. The problem is further compounded by our huge population which is difficult to manage with scanty resources. The health administrators have not taken timely action or have lacked common sense for bolstering the health infrastructure with adequate amounts of vaccines, oxygen, ventilators and beds. The national task force on Covid should have foreseen the vaccine requirement and increased the production through timely financial assistance. No action was taken by state governments to monitor the stocks of the medicines and the spread of black marketers and private hospitals. Malpractices like private hospitals asking the patient to arrange the injection are throwing them onto the laps of black marketers with authorities acting as silent spectators.
The Central, as well as state governments, should increase the flow of funds for creating sound health infrastructure in the districts. All government hospitals should establish oxygen plants and critical care facilities, and the private hospitals must, in the next few months, be asked to establish oxygen plants failing which their licenses should be cancelled. The Central Government must enact a comprehensive health infrastructure and supervision Act to control the operations of private hospitals with dos and don'ts and fix the rate of treatments.
This adversity should be converted by policymakers into an opportunity to create a better health infrastructure for our deserving citizens. In this dark period, we should emulate an old social worker of Maharashtra, one 85-year-old Narayanrao Dabhadkar who took discharge from the hospital, against medical advice, to vacate his bed for a young Covid patient. The old man died after three days. It proves that humanity still exists. Let us also use this pandemic to rid our country of emerging negative elements.
Views expressed are personal