Health infra struggles to keep pace as Covid-19 cases surge

Reports from across cities indicate a health system in distress as a shortage of beds and healthcare workers prompt hospitals to turn away patients seeking tests and treatment for covid-19 and other issues

Neetu Chandra Sharma
Updated8 Jun 2020
An Indian doctor wearing PPE kits writes the details of a patient before collecting samples for swab test for coronavirus. (Photo: AP)
An Indian doctor wearing PPE kits writes the details of a patient before collecting samples for swab test for coronavirus. (Photo: AP)

With the number of coronavirus cases steadily rising even after 70 days of lockdown, India’s health infrastructure has started to creak as top cities witness an acute shortage of resources. The country now has over 250,000 covid-19 cases, with top metros Mumbai and Delhi affected the worst.

Reports from across cities indicate a health system in distress as a shortage of beds and healthcare workers prompt hospitals to turn away patients seeking tests and treatment for covid-19 and other issues.

Maharashtra continues to be the worst affected, with nearly 100,000 cases, crossing the tally of China, the original coronavirus epicentre, which has 84,186 patients.

According to the National Health Profile (NHP) 2018, Maharashtra has 711 public hospitals with 51,446 beds, a number that was inadequate even in a non-covid scenario. Rising coronavirus cases and the coming surge in monsoon ailments threaten to put a greater burden on the state’s healthcare system. As per NHP, in Maharashtra, there is just one government hospital in the state for every 166,880 people.

Even though Maharashtra last month ordered municipal commissioners and district collectors of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region to take charge of 80% of beds in private hospitals, complaints of patients unable to find beds pour in. According to the health department, there are 16,197 covid-19 beds in Mumbai of which over 80% are occupied and over 98% of total ICU beds of 1,097 are occupied. Last week, Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope issued show cause notices to four prominent private hospitals in Mumbai for their failure in delivering proper treatment to patients even when 50% of their beds were vacant.

Meanwhile, Delhi, with 27,654 cases, is already under scanner of the Union health ministry for low testing, high positivity and patients’ dissatisfaction. With cases increasing by around 1,000 every day, denial of treatment, especially by private hospitals, is rising in tandem. However, the Delhi government claims patients are preferring private hospitals to public health facilities, as a total of 4,412 out of 8,637 covid-19 beds and 296 of 472 covid-19 ventilators in Delhi public hospitals are still vacant. According to the government, there are a total of 20,000 beds with 10,000 beds under the Delhi government and the rest in centrally-run hospitals.

In an indication that private hospitals are overstretched, the Delhi government on Sunday said it will open its borders from Monday but will restrict the treatment of covid-19 patients only to Delhi residents.

“Health infrastructure is creaking at this stage of the pandemic because of mismanagement, unprofessional planning, greed of private institutions and unjustified fear. Health delivery in India is concentrated in urban and more in metro cities. Peripheral and primary care system was neglected. Majority of private hospitals in rural areas have either stopped giving services for covid-19 patients or are extorting huge money. Therefore, patients are moving to bigger cities. ICUs with ventilator and available anaesthetics or pulmonary medicine professionals are not available at even district-level hospitals,” said Dr Jugal Kishore, a member of the government’s rapid response team on covid-19 and head, department of community medicine, Safdarjung Hospital.

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