World Health Organization data shows that India’s government spent $63 per person on health care for its 1.3 billion people, 6 years back. By comparison, China spent $398 for each of its 1.4 billion people in 2016, according to the WHO.
Fast forward to 2020, even pregnant women who had contracted coronavirus had to wait for two days before being consulted by a doctor in most hospitals.
While India’s leaders have pledged coronavirus testing and care for those who need it, regardless of wealth, treatments are as stratified and unjust as the country itself. Treatment varies from crowded public hospital wards that some think would make them sicker than if they stayed at private hospitals in luxurious suites that only the affluent can pay.
Everyone should be able to receive either free or highly subsidized treatment at certain public hospitals, depending on their income, under India’s health care system.
Yet the system has been consistently underfunded, which means that government hospitals are overburdened and even simple services are frequently waiting for days for patients. Over the past 15 years, while India has managed to halve its poverty rate, some 176 million people still live on less than $1.90 a day, and experts say the pandemic shines a spotlight on the country’s immense inequality in everything from job rights to health care.
India’s health care system is facing one of its largest tests, with more than 450,000 registered coronavirus infections nationwide and the actual numbers thought to be far higher. Hospitals also have the resources to manage all cases of the virus so far, but there are contingency plans that involve treating patients in repurposed train carriages if that changes.
Regular prices for coronavirus care vary at one of India’s largest private hospital chains, from around 25,000 rupees ($333) for a bed in the general ward to 72,000 rupees ($960) for the one with a ventilator in the ICU.
Other private healthcare providers offer home care packages for people with mild to moderate symptoms that, should the need occur, include twice-daily remote supervision by a nurse for around $25 a day, prescription deliveries, and a guaranteed ambulance.
The pandemic has struck India’s poor the worst, from the virus itself to the economic and social effects of a recently lifted nationwide lockdown. Because they could afford to stay home, the lockdown primarily protected the rich. The weak couldn’t and bore the brunt of the pandemic.