India, along with the rest of the world, continues to amp-up its response in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from issuing a nationwide lockdown to slow-down the spread of the novel coronavirus, the union and state governments have also boosted testing to diagnose and detect the novel coronavirus through government and private laboratories. Furthermore, hospitals, quarantine centres and new healthcare facilities have also been set up, so as to treat the patients infected with the deadly virus.
While these measures are currently helping the country tackle COVID-19, the progress that has been made in the health sector amid this pandemic could very well be lost, if India fails to maintain and build-up on the advancements achieved thus far.
Speaking to The Weather Channel in a live social media chat, Dr. Anant Bhan, a renowned public health researcher and the former president of International Association of BioEthics, insists that India must take a long-term approach in this fight, or face the risk of falling back to square one.
The live panel discussion was organised by The Weather Channel, in collaboration with the non-profit organisation Malaria No More, to mark the World Malaria Day.
“A lot of recruitment that is happening as of now (in healthcare sectors across India) is short term,” said Dr. Bhan. “Hiring recruits for 3-5 months and asking experts to join as consultants in hospitals is not a long-term strategy to build your public health system. You’re just putting in some money to try and get over the COVID-19 challenge, and then you go back to square one, which is not ideal in any case.
“Whatever we learn from this experience, we need to use that to build long-term responses—like Kerala has done. Recruit full-time, permanent staff and build-up those shortages across your health system, from primary health care centres to public health departments. Ensure these people stay and help the country prepare for the next onslaught of health challenges.”
Dr Shailja Singh, a molecular researcher at the Special Centre for Molecular Medicine, JNU, said that there might be a possibility that the coronavirus is less virulent in India due to the some inherent immunity among Indian population, However, she was quick to add that this is still a hypothesis and no scientific study has yet proven this theory this far.
Further, Dr Singh added, “This lockdown has improved our preparedness. Hospitals and laboratories involved in testing have increased. Ample funds have also been allocated to fight the virus. The temperatures and our own immunity might also be of some help.”
Sadhika Tiwari, a principal correspondent with India Spend, urged the Indian government to continue showcasing a strong political will towards improving the health sector even after the pandemic.
“A sustained conversation on health—where health becomes a dining-table conversation, a prime-time news conversation—has never happened in India until this pandemic,” Ms. Tiwari pointed out during the live chat.
“After COVID-19, people have begun realising that public health is a government responsibility, and that the government is responsible for providing them with health infrastructure and facilities.
“I hope that once COVID-19 is dealt with, we continue talking about the importance of public health and how massively we lack in terms of the infrastructure and the political will [towards improving public health sector] in our country.”