COVID Mismanagement In India- Time To Wake Up By Tejas

With the surge in COVID 19 second wave cases, have we slipped in addressing the root cause of the predicament? The crisis shows lacuna in terms of planning, priority, data, forecasting, decision making, intelligence and listening– these are all some of the fundamental management practices one should possess for effectiveness during the ongoing pandemic. Though this life-threatening disease is alien to us, understanding its pattern, mutation and behaviour was challenging in the very beginning and somehow, through some very harsh measures and critical interventions through centralised decision making, we came out from the first wave with some hefty economic and human lives loss, owing to poor crisis management. 

India’s current health infrastructure and human resources (healthcare staff) don’t show good numbers. The country is spending just 1.26% of its GDP on its public healthcare system where it is much lower than countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, which are spending close to 3%. The National Health Policy of 2017 recommended that the government have allocated 2.5% on health and recommended individual states to 8%. But, hardly any state is allocating more to public health. Though these numbers look scary, the budget 2021 has added a much-needed spur for healthcare, a massive 137% increase for healthcare and wellbeing– this to look sharp in reality and not only on papers depends on execution-only. India is also terribly poor in the doctor-patient ratio, which more petite than the WHO prescribed limit of 1:1000. India stands at the ratio of 1:1456 (Economic Survey 2019-20) and even goes more than 1:10,000 (National Health Profile, 2019) in some parts. These stats look grim and demand more impetus. All that was needed is better management and proper strategy in curtailing the spread. Even the institutions such as the “Election Commission of India” have let down India to only issue covid protocols during the Bengal and other state elections and turn a blind eye toward it– this shows a classic example of lack of intelligence and priority. During World War 2, the US defeated the Japs in the battle Midway, which marked a significant event in the history of war and the Pacific only through implementing the best management practices such as intelligence, strategy, preparedness and the like; with the absence of these practices, the war would be all about entropy. In war, the enemy is visible, but in diseases like coronavirus, the enemy is not visible to the naked eye, which means the enemy is omnipresent and requires a steady and laser-focused approach. 

The worst affected will be the middle-class and the poor because of the in-between devil and the deep blue sea type situation– economic devastation and the disease will leave people in a strangled case. Due to sudden and unprepared lockdowns with no impact assessment and redressal mechanism, there have been more tears than covid among the middle-class and the poor– this too highlights the lack of forecasting ability and sense of ownership.

Adding salt to injury is depending more on the private sector healthcare. Millions of tear stories are noticeable of excessive billing, exorbitant costs and other such similar mishaps. India has twice as many private hospitals as the public ones, 43,000 plus and 25,000 plus, respectively, notwithstanding the fact that the majority of the people don’t have access to health insurance! Is this gap being addressed by the govt.? Well, the answer is ground reality reports. 

The way forward

The public is not expecting any miracle from the govt. but better crisis management. During the first wave, the decisions were made by the central govt. which showed significant results, but it is the second wave when things went out of control — the decentralised decision making, vesting the responsibilities of covid management to the individual states. Instead, the central govt. should have handled only through centralised decision-making, ensuring accountability at all village, taluk, district, and state levels with proper reporting structure. Need of the hour is a “national action plan on pandemics” because we are not sure if this will be the last one! The action plan should comprise every detail, from the disease to its impact on all sectors. Set-up of pandemic research institutes state-wise is a must for better comprehension. Databank on migrant workers, jobs lost etc., to be maintained and tracked for compensation. 

Coronavirus is probably the most devastating disaster that the modern world has seen so far. Understandably, it is next to impossible for any govt. to act upon immediately to halt the spread of the disease given to the lack of sufficient information. With still improving health infrastructure, a little more preparedness would have done wonders in controlling the disease.