Why have we failed to protect our doctors and nurses ?
Readers write on the shocking death of 106 doctors due to COVID, absence of public discourse on privatising PSUs and the boast of Union Minister Ravishankar Prasad on telemedicine
Public Sector Undertakings in India which came up in the fifties, sixties or the seventies were unique institutions. Even before steel plants, power plants, engineer- ing plants began production, entire townships came up with hospitals, schools, parks and residential quarters. Roads were laid, teachers, doctors and nurses were appointed even before engineers and technicians were recruited. As a result, most of these public sector undertakings incurred huge debts even before they started their operation. The interest burden was also huge and the balance sheets were invariably in the red. But these loss-making PSUs were decried for being inefficient and corrupt. While these pioneering industries made mistakes, learnt from them and over time did course corrections, there has been little appreciation for the role they played.
Not surprisingly, many of these PSUs are being eyed by private industrialists. They are now low hanging fruits with great real estate, old and falling buildings and an entire generation of engineers and technicians having moved on. There is unfortunately not much debate on the push for privatization. While privatization of industries may well be necessary in some cases, there ought to be a lot more transparency and much more debate and discussion in public.
Cess & Surcharge
Over the past several years the central government has been imposing cess and surcharge on taxes. As some people might know, this revenue stream is not shared with the states. They go directly and solely to the coffers of the central government. While in 2018-19, 36.6% of the central revenue were shared with states, in the fiscal year 2019-20, the percentage has come down to 32.4%.
Both cess and surcharge are supposed to be temporary and imposed for a specific purpose, like the Swachh Bharat Cess or Krishi Kalyan Cess. But as the CAG has pointed out, much of this revenue remain unaccounted and it is not clear if they have been spent for the purpose for which they were imposed. What is more, they are becoming a permanent feature of the Centre’s revenue collection.
This is unfair and unacceptable, especially when the Centre is seen to be splurging funds on avoidable expenses like Rs 20,000 Crore on building new houses for Parliament, the PMO and the central secretariat.
RS Prasad & Telemedicine
It was amusing to see Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad proudly tweet that between March and June this year, around one lakh Indians took advantage of Telemedicine and consulted medical experts online. It was amusing because the minister appears to be ignorant of ground realities and the condition of public healthcare. When most Indians in a country of 1.37 billion is unsure of receiving medical health, the minister is preening over a lakh of people using Telemedicine in three months!
Most of the users were possibly confined to half a dozen cities in the country, nothing for the minister to write home about.
Risk to Caregivers
It came as a shock to learn that at least 106 doctors in India had lost their lives to COVID-19 by the first week of July. Most of them, I learnt from Barkha Dutt’s Youtube channel, happened to be below the age of 60 and a staggering 20% of them were actually below the age of 40.
No figures are apparently available for the number of nursing staff and paramedics who have lost their lives. But newspaper reports have often mentioned about the death of caregivers and even more shockingly, not paid their salary for months.
A figure from New York says that mortality among general public in the city has been twice as high as caregivers. In India the mortality among caregivers appears to be three times as high as the general public. It probably indicates a certain degree of carelessness to which we Indians are generally guilty. But the more likely reason is the failure to provide them with Personal Protective Equipment and a safe environment.
Not surprisingly, in a single hospital in Delhi, Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Hospital under delhi Government, there is a shortage of 350 nurses. If we cannot protect caregivers, can we protect ourselves?