PM Modi’s boasts about ‘success’ of COVID vaccination drive far removed from reality
So far, only 6.4 crore people have been fully vaccinated. At this pace of vaccination, it may not be before April 2022 that we will be able to vaccinate country’s entire population
Medicine is a passion not a profession. Preventing disease and treating patients gives immense pleasure to a doctor. A person dedicated to the cause is beyond the need for praises. However, recognition of medical professional’s work from the mouth of the head of the government is a different matter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi very well utilized the art of using words to praise the doctors on July 1, the day dedicated to the memory of Dr B C Roy, a physician, educationist, philanthropist, freedom fighter and statesman who served as Chief Minister of West Bengal.
After showering praises on the doctors for their role during the pandemic, the Prime Minister should have addressed the issue of violence against the doctors which continues unabated. But he failed to give any concrete assurance. He did not utter a word that a Bill to the effect is pending with the government since December 2019. No steps have been taken to expedite it despite several incidents of violence against the doctors.
He started by blaming the governments before 2014 for not being serious towards healthcare system. But the fact of the matter is that immediately after freedom from the British colonial rule, India had been squeezed of all resources. India's GDP, in absolute numbers in 1947 was a mere Rs.2.7 lakh crore. It rose to Rs. 57 lakh crore in 2014. Our life expectancy stood at as low as 37 years in 1947 which improved gradually with improvement in healthcare as well as nutrition and it rose to 68 years by 2014.
In the immediate post-independence period, our healthcare was developed in the State sector so that it could reach the common man as much as possible. As a result, Primary Health Centres were established and rural dispensaries were made in far flung areas. Not only that, India became a hub for producing cheap medicines under the public sector companies in particular. These were supplied not only to developing countries but also the developed countries at cheap rates. We also strengthened our own vaccine making sector.
It was in 1952 that the ESIC was established to give comprehensive healthcare to employees. Hardly any scheme matches this. Even the Ayushman Bharat provides health care for indoor patients only. In addition, there are several conditions to be registered under the scheme.
As such, to say that nothing was done in those years before 2014 will be injustice and denying the facts.
Coming to COVID, Modi went on to say that India did better than many western countries in the field of COVID management. He forgets that India’s situation in COVID management has been worse than even our neighbouring countries in south Asia though they have poorer economies.
During the second wave, there was unprecedented increase in the number of COVID cases in our country. As on May 17, India recorded 2.60 lakh cases or 19 cases per lakh population, Pakistan 3232 cases or 1.4 cases, Bangladesh recorded 698 cases or 0.42 cases, Nepal recorded 9198 cases which is 31 cases and Sri Lanka recorded 2456 cases that is 11 cases per lakh of population. This data from www.worldometers.info indicates a comparison in the proportion of population being taken ill of COVID. As on May 17, 2021 India had nearly 13 time more cases than Pakistan, 44 times more than Bangladesh, 0.60 times of Nepal and 1.6 times of Sri Lanka.
People have not yet forgotten the nightmare they had gone through because of lack of oxygen, lack of hospital beds, shortage of ventilators and other equipment to save life. Modi has also forgotten that 23 crore more people have gone below poverty line during this period. Many have been pushed to hunger because of the absence of any aid from the Central government.
The developed countries, with whom he is comparing our country, paid lakhs of dollars to their people to meet the economic crisis. On the contrary, our government did not even heed to the economists’ advice of paying Rs. 7500 to the poor families. The poor have got only 5 kilogram grain and 1 kg dal which costs only Rs. 225.
Boasting on the increase in the health budget, Modi said that in this year’s budget, the expenditure on health has been increased by more than 2 times. This is completely untrue. The factual increase on the health budget is from Rs. 65000 crore to Rs 72000 crore. This is a marginal increase of 10 per cent, which is barely enough to meet the inflation in one year.
The most worrying factor in this year’s budget was reduction in the spending on nutrition from Rs 3700 to 2700 crore. This at a time when India is at 102nd position in hunger index out of 117 countries, worse even than our neighbouring South Asian countries.
However, there has been increase in the corporate sector’s investment on health. With this, we have improved in advanced health care but vast sections of society cannot avail these services.
Modi’s boasting about vaccination drive in India is far from reality too. Whereas on June 21, 80 lakhs people were vaccinated, the number is coming down since then. The number of people vaccinated on 27 June was 17 lakh, on Doctor’s Day it was 42 lakh, and it fell to 14.77 lakh on 4th July.
As on today, only 6.4 crore people have been fully vaccinated. At this pace of vaccination, it may not be before April 2022 that we will be able to vaccinate our entire population.
We have recently seen how the data on the number of diseased and deceased has been fudged. This is anti-science because the database gives us knowledge on the strategies to be evolved to manage pandemics in future. It is also well known that most of the decisions taken during the pandemic had been on the political level rather than the scientific level involving public health experts and epidemiologists. Only an inclusive decision making involving experts can yield results.
Our Prime Minister should understand the difference between addressing the medical fraternity and an election rally.
Views are personal