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How Coronavirus Exposed the Public Health System in India

Did COVID-19 bring out the downfall in our public health system?

The pandemic not only stirred the humongous healthcare network of India into motion but also dramatically brought its significant vulnerabilities into view. India has 7,13,986 beds distributed across 25,778 government hospitals, according to the National Health Profile-2019, reported by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence. The Railways operate 122 hospitals with a total of 13,355 beds across the country, while the State Insurance Corporation of Employees has 155 hospitals with 21,931 beds.

The shortage of personal protection equipment ( PPE), N-95 masks for themselves and para-medical personnel involved in treating the growing number of COVID-19 patients have also been brought to social media by doctors from many government hospitals to complain about.

Government hospitals, critical for COVID-19 patients, are often ill-equipped with ventilators. Government hospitals had approximately 8,432 ventilators across the country, as per the last count, while private hospitals had approximately 30,000 such machines.

A recent assessment by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health said that, when the pandemic is expected to be at its height, India may see up to 13 lakh COVID-19 patients. The researchers, however, said that by mid-May, strict travel restrictions, social distancing, and lockdowns could help India sustain the number of infections to about 14,000.

Via statistical modeling, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has estimated that the overall number of infected patients will be reduced by 62 percent by placing 50 percent of symptomatic patients under quarantine within three days of developing symptoms. Such a plan will also decrease the disease’s peak prevalence by up to 90%, thus reducing the burden on the public health care system, which is already strained.

The government has adopted a strategy of closely tracking the spread of the epidemic, attempting to contain its spread over the next few months through interventions such as lockdown, and rapidly ramping up medical facilities to prepare for peak demand.

Health experts have cautioned against such large migration, which caught the government unawares, leading the Center to provide state governments with advice to arrange for migrant workers to stay wherever they are in transit.

The enormity of the government’s reaction to the spread of the pandemic can be assessed by the major surveillance exercise initiated in Bhilwara, Rajasthan, which registered a rise in cases due to the incompetence of doctors at a private hospital.

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