WHAT THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS IS TELLING US ABOUT OURSELVES
Recently, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu stated: “Between the consideration of health of the people and stabilisation of our economy being debated, the former shall take precedence over the later. In my view, while the concern of economy can wait for another day, that of health can’t”. No doubt health care is important and the government should have a clear health policy through which the Public Health System can be strengthened and every citizen of the country should be ensured proper health care. But the country also can’t ignore the fact that according to the Mumbai-based think-tank the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the unemployment data in the country in March rose to 8.7 percent, the highest for the month in 43 years. This unemployment figure includes the sample of daily wage, salaried employees, construction workers, MGNREGS workers and agriculture labourers. The sample under-represented the section of migrant workers.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has taught a lesson to all the governments throughout the world and reinforced the importance of public health and its importance on the economy and employment. Today when I am writing this article just a week left before the end of the 21 days nationwide lockdown, many states also are already raising voice that the lockdown should be extended. Italy and Spain are already under lockdown for a month.
In India unfortunately the virus is linked with the religion also. In Tamil Nadu, 1,431 persons, who participated in the Tablighi Jamaat meeting at Delhi were identified. They cooperated with the state and were all isolated in two days. Inspite of this, some try to communalise the issue and stigmatise a particular community. Everybody should understand that the virus knows no religion and no one would wilfully bring the virus to spread it to others.
The left parties and CTU’s are repeatedly telling the Union finance minister during the Budget discussion that the importance of public health should be government’s top priority, since only a healthy citizen can contribute to the economic growth of the country. In our country only 1.1 per cent of the GDP is the government’s spending on health care and this has not changed for the past 20 yrs.
Comparatively the expenditure for public health in Brazil is four per cent, 8.6 per cent for US, 2.9 per cent for China and 4.4 per cent for Iran. Only Pakistan is lower than India, which is estimated to be 0.9 per cent of the GDP. Lot of studies have revealed after the COVID-19 pandemic that there is an acute shortage of life support systems, critical care facilities, ambulances, PPEs and so on.
Another area of concern is the medical education. Medical education is thrown open to private corporates and they even charge Rs 1 crore for a medical seat. Medical colleges are generally concentrated in the urban cities. Primary Health Centres are totally neglected. The governments both at the Centre and states should come forward for establishing new medical colleges/ hospitals, nursing colleges and para-medical colleges in all the underdeveloped districts.
Preventive health care is another area to be given importance, which includes testing facilities, immunisation, monitoring of nutrition, etc. Treatment and care are the major areas where the governments have to concentrate. In every state there is a shortage of health workers. If sufficient health workers are available, they can visit the households, monitor the situation and counsell them. This will also enable to maintain a Health Monitoring Data Bank.
In the name of controlling/fighting COVID-19, regular health activities should not come to a standstill. Therefore, to maintain the health of the people of our country, the regular public health activities like maternal and child health, eradication of infectious diseases, polio and BCG immunization, etc, should continue without any dilution. The government of India should allot sufficient funds to all the states for the above mission.
Simultaneously the government may formulate economic policies as suggested by many prominent economists keeping in mind the interests of the farmers, the workers, the toiling masses, the salaried class and the lower middle class. As told by Raghuram Rajan, former governor of RBI, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be the biggest economic crisis faced by India. He has also stated that “economically speaking, India is faced today with perhaps its greatest emergency since Independence”. The government can’t be a silent spectator by leaving the poor, the daily-waged workers and migrant workers starving on the plea of the lockdown.
Comprehensive economic packages and schemes for providing unemployment allowance, etc, has to be seriously considered by the government in the coming days. There is no waiting period for this. Let us to hope that with time good sense will prevail upon the decision-makers at the Centre who discuss the entire matter with all the political parties and trade unions and come out with a policy decision to strengthen the Public Health Care System. This has to be followed by measures to strengthen the economy of our country, so that the poor, needy and toiling masses are not subjected to starvation and crisis.