Dr Manisha Bangar
It wasn’t so long ago that the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, called for a focused effort to make India a $5 trillion economy. However, it doesn’t surprise anyone anymore that the Indian government’s definition of the economy doesn’t include the welfare of sectors like healthcare and education, or elevating the rural economy or spending on the poor, marginalized population.
The failure of the Indian healthcare system in combating the current global pandemic is the result of continually ignoring the needs of this sector. The Indian Prime Minister himself asked the citizens to applaud the healthcare workers for their contribution, but completely ignored their very basic demand of personal protective kits.
The number of active corona patients has now increased to 67,270. With an increase in the number of positive cases, the demand for personal protective kits has also gone up. But unfortunately, there is no supply to meet the demand.
In the first week of the lockdown, the ambulance drivers in Uttar Pradesh, who were mainly serving government hospitals, went on a strike. Their demand was protective gear. The ambulance drivers refused to return to work due to the risk to their lives.
During the same week, another report surfaced from Kolkata, where junior doctors were given plastic raincoats as protection for examining patients. In Delhi, Doctors wore motorbike helmets to protect themselves. Asha workers, who are the frontline healthcare workers in rural India, were sent out for fieldwork without masks or sanitizers. The administration asked the Asha workers to do surveys and collect information on people who have returned to their native villages. The government put the lives of the lowly paid Asha workers to risk, without giving it a second thought.
As a result of all this, several healthcare workers were exposed to the pandemic and got infected. On 6th April, the government sealed the Delhi State Cancer Institute after 18 of the healthcare workers tested positive for COVID 19. Five healthcare workers of Maharaja Agrasen Hospital, West Delhi were also found positive for coronavirus. A senior Doctor serving in AIIMS, as well as his wife, were tested positive in the first week of April.
Reports of healthcare workers getting corona infection are continuing to surface. A healthcare worker in PGI Chandigarh was confirmed positive for coronavirus. In Mumbai, doctors were found positive and in Delhi, more healthcare workers got infected with the virus.
On the 13th of April, the Supreme Court of India changed its own decision about the government ensuring free COVID-19 tests in private labs. The Supreme Court, in its latest order, said that free checkups are only for the poorest citizens rather than everybody. The order said, “testing in private labs should be free for those eligible under the Ayushman Bharat health policy for the poor, something that is already mandated by the government.” The court also directed the Centre to issue guidelines within a week listing other categories of economically weaker sections for free testing. However, India’s per capita income per month is estimated to be Rs. 11,254. And a single coronavirus test costs Rs. 4,500. It’s an unfortunate and demotivating fact for those who want to get tested, but are not covered under the Ayushman Bharat policy and cannot afford to pay for the test either.
There are very few government labs which are taking samples for test. There is also uncertainty about private hospitals admitting corona patients. In some of the states, the government has asked private hospitals not to admit corona patients.
However, the way some states like Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have responded to the crisis is exemplary. Kerala managed to control the pandemic when the number of positive cases started rising in the other states. Its strong and decentralized public healthcare system is said to be the reason. The functional three-tier public healthcare system made it easy to fight against the pandemic. Community driven efforts and Kerala’s political culture of spending on healthcare systems saved many lives.
Chhattisgarh too has shown remarkable improvement in tackling the pandemic. The Chhattisgarh government, without any delay, started taking measures from the very beginning and as a result, it topped on the list of states recovering from the pandemic. The Bhilwara model too has been appreciated for batting against the deadly virus.
These states are not just battling against the virus, but are also ensuring the provision of necessities for every person in the states through their humanitarian relief mechanisms.
Goa and Manipur no longer have any positive COVID-19 patients. However, the Goa Congress has raised the question that why only 0.4 percent of Goansare being tested? In a tweet, the Goa Congress Chief, Girish Chodankar, asked the Health Ministry and the Goa government that why to date only 826 people have been tested out of 2,158 who were identified as potential carriers of the coronavirus and put in quarantine. He tweeted “your hurry is our biggest worry.”
Dr. Manisha Bangar, during the very first week of the lockdown, raised concerns about the availability of Personal Protective Equipment for doctors. She, in her Facebook live session, asked Modi to present the blueprint to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors across the country protested and made the government aware of how much their lives are at risk without the required equipment.
The BJP government at the Centre, however, completely failed in assessing the crisis. Without laying down any plan, the central government ordered a complete shutdown of the country. And when it failed in controlling the pandemic, the media, like always, communalized the issue. It very smoothly blamed the Tablighi Jamat and Muslims for causing the Coronavirus outbreak in the country. Narendra Modi’s BJPled government failed at all the fronts. It left the poor without food, the homeless without shelter and the daily-wage workers without bread. The government created a panic that compelled the migrant labourers to walk hundreds of kilometers on foot towards their homes.
By blaming Muslims for the outbreak, the BJP government is trying to hide its failures, while putting the lives of the frontline healthcare workers at risk. From the very beginning, the Modi government ignored the warnings. The government let lakhs of international passengers into the country without screening them for the virus at the international airports. Instead of improving the poor healthcare system, the central government continued to vilify and demonize Muslims. This is one of the most vicious and cruelest things that the Bhartiya Janta Party-led central government has done to India and specifically to the Indian Muslims.
However, in such a chaotic time, Uddhav Thackeray led Maharashtra government has shown some positive leadership. Despite being on the right side of the political spectrum, he kept condemning the communalization of the crisis, and appealed to all the citizens to maintain the harmony of the country.
Dr Manisha Bangar is a leading organizer of Mulniwasi Bahujans of India (the Indigenous majority population). Currently serving as National Vice President of BAMCEF (Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation), she is former National Vice President of Mulniwasi Sangh and National President of Mulniwasi Mahila Sangh the mass-based offshoot wings of BAMCEF.
A good orator, freelance writer and poetess she has continued to speak for more than a decade at Universities, Civil/Human Rights and Phule Ambedkarite Organizations, both Nationally and Internationally (USA, UK, Europe and Middle East) including the United Nations on issues of Caste, Gender Equality, Health and Education rights, Comparative Religious thought and Phuley Periyaar Ambedkar Ideology.
She is also a super specialised, practising Hepatologist in Hyderabad, Telangana, India.