India remains badly placed to tackle COVID spread: Fitch Solutions

Despite several healthcare reforms, India remains badly placed to tackle the third wave of COVID-19 infections sweeping the nation, Fitch Solutions on Friday said, adding the unprecedented crisis has highlighted the need to increase investment in the healthcare sector.

After some success in curbing the virus considerably, India’s economy had returned to functioning normally by the second half of 2020.

“However, over recent weeks, the virus has started spreading rapidly, partly due to complacency on the social distancing measures and mask-wearing policies,” Fitch Solutions said in a note.

With daily COVID-19 cases crossing the grim milestone of 2 lakh, several hospitals across the country are stretched beyond their capacities in handling the rising burden of the highly infectious disease.

States such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Chennai, Punjab and Karnataka bearing the maximum load of the pandemic are already falling short of health infrastructure and equipment, ranging from oxygen to ventilators, it said.

“Despite several healthcare reforms, India remains badly placed to tackle the rapid spread of the coronavirus,” it said, adding the epidemic could be worse in India if it is not adequately contained.

With 8.5 hospital beds per 10,000 population and 8.0 physicians per 10,000, the country’s healthcare sector is not equipped for such a crisis.

“Moreover, the significant inefficiency, dysfunctioning, and acute shortage of the healthcare delivery systems in the public sector do not match up with the growing needs of the population,” it noted.

Besides, more than 80 per cent of the population still does not have any significant health insurance coverage and approximately 68 per cent of the Indian population has limited or no access to essential medicines.

“The low level of public spending on health is both a cause and an exacerbating factor accounting for the poor quality, limited reach and insufficient public provisioning of healthcare.

“Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the critical importance of the public sector in health provisioning,” the agency said.

The unprecedented crisis, it said, has highlighted the need to increase investment in the healthcare sector.

Fitch Solutions said India’s vaccine rollout has been slow.

The country of 135 crore people has administered 8.09 crore vaccine doses until April 2021, the most after the US and China, but it lags far behind in immunisations per capita.

India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, expanded its inoculation programme to include everyone above the age of 45. But so far, it has vaccinated only about one in 25 people, compared with nearly one in two in Britain and one in three in the United States.

“India’s soaring virus cases puts its position as a global supplier at risk – the country has had to hold back vaccine exports in order to maintain domestic supply,” it said. “India’s supply issues will significantly affect emerging Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh that fall within the COVAX plan.” Among the Indian cities, Mumbai remains one of the worst COVID-19 hit.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation decided to discharge asymptomatic patients at the earliest to vacate beds for the patients with more serious symptoms.

The Mumbai civic body also stated that it will place the order for procuring injections of antiviral drug remdesivir and other medical equipment to avoid any potential shortage of medicines at the city hospitals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a review meeting stated that mortality under all circumstances should be avoided by ramping up healthcare infrastructure, availability of oxygen, ventilators besides required logistics, and ensuring that clinical management protocols are followed across all hospitals as well as for those in-home care.

“Concerned over the rising burden of the pandemic, states are now revamping their health infrastructure in order to tackle the rising number of patients,” Fitch Solutions added.

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