Covid-19: Misplaced priorities

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]
The Covid-19 pandemic caused by the coronavirus is causing panic across the world. Many cities and countries, including India, are under total shutdown, entire families are living in isolation, and many deaths have been caused by the virus.
With infections multiplying, many developed countries like Italy, Spain, the UK, France and the USA are being overwhelmed with critical patients and are reporting acute shortage of ICU beds, ventilators, masks, personal protective equipment (PPE) and trained medical personnel. Data from Covid-19 cases in China show that around 15 percent patients get sick enough to need hospitalization and 5 percent require ventilator support in ICU.
Compared to developed countries, the medical and critical care scenario is worse in India, especially in Northeast and Arunachal. It is also reported that India has shortage of an estimated 600,000 doctors and 2 million nurses. In India, there is one government doctor for every 10,189 people. The WHO recommends a ratio of 1:1000.
Though health is a state subject, successive central and state governments have neglected healthcare with minimal allocations. Presently, government spending on healthcare stands at a miniscule 1.15 percent of the GDP. Allocations for health are less than defence, education, agriculture, rural development, etc. India ranks 184 out of 191 in terms of GDP percent spent on healthcare. The average healthcare spend per person in India is among the lowest when compared to other countries.
Similarly, Arunachal’s 2020-21 budget allocation for healthcare was Rs 997.79 crore, which is less than education, rural infrastructure and power.
As per reports, there are a total of 70,000 ICU beds and 40,000 ventilators in the entire country. Despite much larger population, we have 20 percent the number of ICUs that South Korea has. This shortage of ICU beds and ventilators is more acute in the Northeast and Arunachal. Just a few days back, an ICU with four beds and ventilators has been started at TRIHMS, Naharlagun. There are no other ICUs in Arunachal, and we are dependent on Assam for critical care.
There is also an acute shortage of PPE, ventilators, masks, sanitizers and gloves. Health workers, police and administration are most exposed to the dangers of Covid-19. Presently, there is shortage of PPE, masks and gloves even for our health workers. The only way to avoid getting infected is by using hand sanitizers and disinfectants like Lizol and hypochlorite solutions. Presently, there is an acute shortage of these items also.
Due to the unavailability of these safety items, the only option remaining for protection from Covid-19 is social distancing and lockdowns. Presently, the country is under lockdown for 21 days, except for essential items and services. With India entering the critical third week, cooperation of all citizens appears to be the only option left. Else a massive disaster is looming. Stay home, stay safe. (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)