Refocusing on Healthcare: COVID-19 Draws focus towards Challenges of Health Care Sector
Healthy lives build healthy nations. It is an irrefutable fact that, in order for a nation to thrive, its population must be in a good state of health to be able to function optimally and contribute to the best of their abilities.
From an economic perspective, the health of a population is a key driver of labor and capital investment and consequent economic growth. Good health is said to be a key contributor to higher GDP per capita in the long run due to its impact on population, participation, and productivity. It could also be stated that the ultimate goal of economic policy is to improve the wellbeing of individuals and the community.
Present Healthcare Scenario in India
The coronavirus pandemic has been a good litmus test for India’s healthcare system. While India has been able to effectively manage the rising number cases so far, primarily due to the imposed nationwide lockdown; the crisis has revealed many weaknesses in the healthcare system of the economy. One of the reasons for having to enforce the entire country into lockdown was the incapability of the health care system to handle a large number of cases.
Currently, India’s healthcare spending is 3.6% of GDP as per National Health Profile-2019.
The average for OECD countries in 2018 was 8.8% of GDP.
Developed countries, on the other hand, spend a lot more- the US (16.9%), Germany (11.2%), France (11.2%) and Japan (10.9%). Due to inadequate public healthcare infrastructure, people have to pay large amounts out-of-pocket which adds significantly to their expenditures.
On the rural front, Government hospitals have 713,986 beds in total, or 0.6 beds per 1,000 patients. There is a shortage of primary healthcare centers and community healthcare centers by 22% and 30%, respectively. The rural healthcare system has long been suffering from a shortage of medicines and instruments, as well as healthcare workers, and often lacks even basic amenities. Private healthcare, on the other hand, is costly and out of the reach of the poor.
A Peak into Statistics
Globally, it is estimated that more than 5 billion people will lack access to essential health services by 2030. These services include the ability to see a health worker, access to essential medicines and running water in hospitals. Globally, healthcare expenditure stands at 10% of GDP.
In India, there are currently 0.55 beds per 1,000 population. The availability of beds for senior citizens is also low — 5.18 beds per 1,000 population. While the World Health Organisation (WHO) prescribes a doctor-population ratio of 1:1,000, in India it is 1:1,445. Some States fare even worse than the national average of 0.55 beds; Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Gujarat and Jharkhand are some of them. Imagine, had the Coronavirus outbreak been greater in the country than it presently is, patients would not have had beds in hospitals, let alone adequate medical treatment. The ratio of doctors to the population is also not healthy.
These numbers sound a clarion call for better health care.
IMF stated in its annual reports that India can boost its human capital’s productivity by investing in education and healthcare. In 2018, it identified poor public health as the 12th most important hurdle for ease of doing business, ahead of crime, tax regulations and policy instability. Health and working conditions are a key recommendation in its suggestions for labour market reforms. The health sector creates both high- and low-skill jobs and can be used for pump-priming the service and manufacturing sectors.
Additionally, there is also a lack of trust in the public healthcare system. People are hesitant to come forward as they lack the confidence that government hospitals will be able to treat them efficiently. This mistrust further adds to worsening health conditions.
Time to Refocus
Every crisis creates a challenge, and in every challenge lays opportunity. The COVID crisis presents an enormous opportunity for government to initiate reforms that match the scale of current needs of the economy.
SDG 3 aspires to ensure health and well being for all by improving overall health standards of a country and eliminating diseases. It aims to achieve universal health coverage, and provide access to safe and effective medicines and vaccines for all. In general, it is assumed that the efficiency with which health care resources are used will determine the extent to which health outcomes are enhanced.
SDG 3 draws focus towards these challenges in focus and chalk out a path to better the healthcare systems. Good health is the building block of a successful nation; it is imperative that governments must take stock of the current situation and rise to the challenge.