January 30, 2023

Covid-19 pandemic lays bare healthcare inadequacies

In the midst of an unprecedented crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian healthcare industry is undergoing a major transformation as its inadequacies and pitfalls came into the spotlight. At the same time, the pandemic has also paved the way for digital interventions that are likely to alter the healthcare landscape in 2022.

The pandemic has reinforced the health sector’s importance and the need to strengthen efforts, highlighted by the oxygen shortage and subsequent deaths during the second wave of Covid-19 infections. The older healthcare models need a technological push to provide accessible health services to all.

According to the 2021 Global Health Security Index, “All countries remain dangerously unprepared for future epidemic and pandemic threats, including threats potentially more devastating than Covid-19.”

It measured the capacities of 195 countries to prepare for an epidemic and pandemic. The GHS Index assessed countries across six categories, namely prevention, detection and reporting, rapid response, health system, compliance with international norms and risk environment.

Also Read — Hospital stay risk for Omicron is 40%-45% lower than Delta: Study

Among 195 nations, India ranked 66th with a score of 42.8 and a decline of 0.8 points from the 2019 GHS index. The study underlines that India has improved in the detection and reporting category, but there has been no enhancement of its prevention protocols, health system or rapid response processes.

The study says that although countries came up with infrastructure during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of them are temporary.

India scored 29.7, slightly above the global average at 28.4, out of 100 in the prevention category. In the detection and reporting category — which shows major gaps in the reporting capacities for epidemics of potential international concern — India scored 43.5, 11 points above the global average.

India scored 30.3 in the rapid response category, which was below the global average of 37.6; besides scoring 46.1 and 47.2, respectively, in the health system and commitment to improving national capacity, financing and global norms categories, with respective ranks of 56 and 92.

However, in the risk environment category, India scored slightly above the global average in this category, at 60.2, and ranked 73 in the list.

India’s preparation for a third Covid wave

The Omicron-led third Covid-19 wave is knocking on India’s door. However, the government seems to have learnt its second wave lessons by establishing a PSA [Pressure Swing Adsorption] plant in each district hospital.

“The PSA plants are being established in each district hospitals, especially in far-flung areas, enabling the hospitals to become self-sufficient in the generation of oxygen for their needs and reducing the burden on the medical oxygen supply grid across the country,” said Dr Bharti Pravin Pawar in the Rajya Sabha during the latest session.

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She said that the online digital solutions ‘Oxygen Demand Aggregation system (ODAS)’ and ‘Oxygen Digital Tracking System (ODTS)’ have been developed to ascertain the demand for medical oxygen from all medical facilities and to track their transportation.

A Covid Drugs Management Cell (CDMC) has been set up in the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) to oversee the management of smooth supply of drugs used in Covid-19 management, she added in her reply on the question of whether the data on Covid-19 deaths is being used by the government to prepare medical infrastructure for efficient management of the possible third wave in the Rajya Sabha.

The Centre is also planning to identify and train at least one ‘Oxygen Steward’ in each district across the country ahead of a looming Omicron spike. The initiative aims to empower all healthcare workers engaged in oxygen management and administration, with essential knowledge and skills to ensure rational utilisation and avoid wastage of medical oxygen, especially in resource-constrained settings.

On the contrary, the recently released fourth edition of the State Health Index of NITI Aayog says that nearly half the states and UTs did not reach the halfway mark in the Composite Overall Index Score, and despite good performances, even the top-ranking states and UTs could benefit from further improvements.

As per the report, only five larger states and two smaller states showed a good overall performance and continued to improve on their Health Index Score from the Base Year (2018-19) to Reference Year (2019-20).

Way Ahead in 2022

According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s Future of Healthcare Report, around 80 per cent of healthcare systems are aiming to increase their investment in digital healthcare tools in the next five years.

Also Read — Explained: Covid-19 ‘R value’ and where India stands

The healthcare industry in India is projected to reach $372 billion (over Rs 27 lakh crore) by 2022, according to a report from Invest India. The hospital industry, which accounts for 80 per cent of the healthcare industry in India, is forecast to increase to $132.84 billion (around Rs 10 lakh crore) by FY22 from $61.79 billion (less than Rs 5 lakh crore) in FY17 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16-17 per cent.

With overburdened hospitals, personalised homecare is likely to grow in the 2022 as India continues to reel from the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the government is also planning to increase public health spending to 2.5 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2025.

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