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View: Upgrading government health infrastructure is the need of the hour

Upwardly mobile Indians have built private islands inside their gated communities buying products and services to craft a comfortable life, with their own water and power infrastructure.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Apr 01, 2020, 02.21 PM IST
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Govt health centres
An engaged middle-class should help build pressure to improve government facilities faster.
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The fear of Covid-19 is big. The fear of being sent to the government hospital seems to be bigger. Unsurprisingly, suspected Covid-19 patients in many parts of the country have been running away from hospitals creating fear and outrage, pushing governments to pass laws.

For the record, government facilities are at the forefront today in testing and treating suspected cases of Covid-19 patients in the country. For most Indians, this would be their first brush with government healthcare services. And especially for the relatively better off familiar with private institutions, government facilities would be a new experience.

India’s healthcare is heavily skewed towards the private sector. According to Emergo ( bit.ly/3bGBZrc), a global medical device consulting firm, distribution of healthcare spending between public and private in India is split 30:70 as against China’s 56:44, Brazil’s 46:54 and Europe’s 78:22. For most Indians who can afford it, visiting a government hospital for illnesses is among the last resorts.

Healthcare services isn’t alone. Over the years, Indians seeking private solutions for public services inefficiencies has been recurring theme. Poor facilities in government schools has led to the massive rise of private sector in education. Irregular power supply gave a big boost to the generator set and inverter industry. Supply of sub-par quality drinking water has created a big business for packaged water and water purifiers. Poor security and policing has led to the rise of a booming security guard business.

Battling COVID-19
Battling COVID-19

Upwardly mobile Indians have built private islands inside their gated communities buying products and services to craft a comfortable life, with their own water and power infrastructure. While on the one hand, this has helped them bypass government inefficiencies, it has also created a disengaged middle-class that doesn’t have much stake in building pressure to improve government services.

Except that now during the Covid-19 crisis, these aspirational Indians are hitting a wall. Increasingly, covering up government inefficiencies with quick private solutions is becoming difficult. It is no longer a question of
affordability.

Take, air pollution, which has now become a growing worry in big cities – even as cities such as Delhi last week saw ‘unbelievable’ improvement in air quality because of the lockdown. How do you get a quick private sector fix to bad air? Air-purifiers for homes has its limitations. From global warming to now Covid-19, increasingly, 21st century problems are big, and do not have an easy quick-fix solution.

An engaged, informed and vocal middle-class, which can build pressure on government, is an important conduit for any country to improve the standards of its government services. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought this buried truth to the fore in India.

Irrespective of the economic class of the rescued, the Indian government has taken charge of airlifting Indians from across the world -- not to mention flying back foreign nationals from India to their home countries during the lockdown.

Coming back to healthcare facilities, even as Indians complain about poor quarantine centres and suspected Covid-19 patients fleeing from sub-par government hospitals, there is a silver lining. Finally, the poor state of government hospitals have made headlines and are getting attention on social media. An engaged middle-class should help build pressure to improve government facilities faster.
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