The Covid pandemic unleashed an unprecedented crisis for India and the world. In the fresh memory of humankind, no such tragedy had struck us as severely as this once. It came as no surprise, rationally speaking, that governments were faced with numerous onerous tasks – from ensuring hospital beds to supplies of oxygen and medicines, ration for the poor, and managing anxiety of people. While the Covid crisis exposed us to new challenges, it also gave some critical lessons, and even some fresh new ideas to ponder over, and live with.
First and foremost, the Covid conundrum highlighted the need that across the world, countries needed to review their budgetary allocation on healthcare. According to WHO Report ‘Global spending on health: Weathering the storm “In 2018, global spending on health reached US $ 8.3 trillion, or 10% of global GDP, and it was the first time in the past five years that health spending grew slower than GDP.” In subsequent years too, there has not been much rise in India’s spending as a percentage of GDP and this needs to change now, in wake of the Covid pandemic. The WHO report has a prescription for policy makers in India,“With the economy projected to contract -11.2% in 2020 and per capita GDP expected to take several years to return to levels that existed prior to this crisis, public spending on health will have to increase as a share of GDP.”
In fact in the post Covid era, this shall have to substantially increase and a slew of innovative and liberal measures including fiscal stimulus will have to be introduced to ensure this. Both the Centre and states will have to allocate more budgets for public health spending, raise focus on modernizing infrastructure, use the visionary Make in India campaign to incentivize local pharma and medical equipment industries to supply at competitive rates, and give impetus to programs like Ayushman Bharat and National Digital Health Mission. Expanding the insurance coverage net will also be critical.
Second, contrary to popular perception the Covid crisis exhibited a fine spirit of federalism with the Centre and states, and different states, working in tandem to work on the collective goal of alleviating the miseries caused by the pandemic. While politics did play out, at the end of the day, the true spirit of the Constitution prevailed with coordinated efforts by the central and state governments. The Oxygen express was one good example of this. However, the pandemic exposed us to a new reality, where any form of miscommunication can only spell doom for all. Therefore it is imperative that the Centre and states, and various agencies must sit together to chart out a robust health crisis management protocol with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Odisha has shown the way how some of the worst natural disasters can be managed with prudence, planning and perseverance – minus the politics in it. That same spirit should prevail in all such scenarios.
Third, we must take a cue from Niti Aayog Member Health VK Paul who has advocated that governments must target the primary healthcare sector while the private sector should focus on secondary and tertiary healthcare sector. Much of the strain on public and private healthcare infrastructure in urban and semi urban centres, as has been witnessed during Covid, could have been avoided if our primary healthcare systems had been in shape. The time has come to go back to basics and states must focus on strengthening their bottom of the pyramid healthcare delivery infrastructure.
Fourth, digital dominance was in full display during both the waves of Covid. While for some it meant disconnect from the real, thriving world, for many it opened a new window of opportunities. Business meetings which took weeks to materialize, happened in no time. For many professionals, team meetings on new virtual connectivity platforms became common. From doctors to journalists, scientists, administrators and even Ministers virtual meetings became a norm. The crisis in a way forced us to hunt for an alternative, and when we found one, we realized how efficacious and prudent it was. It saved us commuting time, helped cut carbon footprints, made decision making faster and offered numerous other advantages including offering savings on real estate, rent and commuting expenses. That’s a big positive from the Covid crisis, and it is likely to stay on as a viable alternative to many things we did.
Fifth, societies across the world saw a rare surge of compassion. In a society that is excessively materialistic with little correlation with well-being of people, and to which Tibor Scitovsky named a “joyless economy”, it was heartening to see compassion cascading all over. When life seemed frugal, and fear lingering all around, human beings realized we needed each other. Material comforts gave way to, even if momentary, cherishing of values of care, sympathy, empathy and solicitousness.
Sixth, the role of the media also came in for good scrutiny. The English, Hindi and regional newspapers played a vital role of spreading information and pointing out gaps, and so did the English news channels. However, serious questions are being raised over the conduct of a section of the media – most notably Hindi news television. It was felt that for an excessively scared society, the relentless, high-decibel, dramatic and at times exaggerated portrayal of ‘facts’, following “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy, was problematic. It exacerbated anxieties, pushed fear further high, and created a cloud of depression.
As we emerge smarter from the varied experiences of Covid waves 1 & 2, it is hoped we shall be better equipped to deal with any such catastrophe the next time.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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