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Time to get our act together

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Doctor’s Day rolls by each year on July 1 but Chief Justice of India N V Ramana put it best when he    asked why “medical professionals are at the receiving end for someone else’s failure”.

Lest there be any doubt on the issues he had in his sights, CJI Ramana went on to comment, “Issues such as an insufficient number of medical professionals, infrastructure, medicines, outdated technologies, and government not giving priority to the medical sector are issues of immediate concern. It is a fact that the tradition of family doctor is vanishing. Why is it that the profiteering by corporates and investors is being blamed on doctors?”

“The medical bodies and concerned agencies in the government have to put their heads together to address these concerns. Only then can we sincerely greet the doctors on the first of July every year,” the Chief Justice said while addressing medical professionals at a Doctors Day event in Hyderabad. Let us hope that as the COVID shadow continues, we celebrate as well as respect our medical professionals.

CJI Ramana’s concern that the “government not giving priority to medical sector” will be hopefully countered  by  the  additional fiscal  stimulus of Rs 23,220 crores announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman just a few days earlier. This round focussed on ramping up paediatric care, ICU beds, oxygen supply, and enhancing testing facilities. Let us hope these infrastructure plans pan out. Check out Express Healthcare’s July 2021 edition, which spotlights Critical Care and Emergency Services, for a quick look at some of the plans underway. (Link to digital edition: https://www.expresshealthcare.in/digital-issue/express-healthcare-july-2021/430084/)

But where there is funding, there is almost always profiteering. If ‘Everyone Loves a Good Drought’ was P Sainath’s analysis of how funds meant to end a drought were siphoned off, will we have more than enough cause to expect a book along similar lines on India’s tryst with COVID-19? An analysis titled, ‘Everyone Loves a Good Pandemic’ would cover false vaccination camps held in housing colonies, expired doses finding their way into the arms of unsuspecting citizens, black marketeering of key medicines, oxygen cylinders, etc and much more.

Policymakers too will find their rightful place in such an analysis. Decisions like not sharing information on adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccinations in a timely manner, for example, do not inspire confidence. The only consolation is that many countries faced the same constraints. But some seemed to cope better. How we deal with COVID-19 will define our identity as a nation, industry and as citizens.

As the virus continues its natural course to mutate, a new Delta plus variant raises fears that the third wave could be closer than we estimated. Even as the Vice President of India, M Venkaiah Naidu finally echoed the long-standing demand of health experts for fast-tracking genome sequencing of new COVID-19 variants to speed up finding suitable vaccines and drugs, comes news that Singapore is putting in place ways to live with the virus. Rather than counting cases, enforcing lockdowns and mass contact tracing, Singapore is looking at tackling COVID as an endemic infection, like flu. While the situation in India and much of the rest of the world does not allow such a plan right now, it certainly gives us a tantalising glimpse of what a new post-COVID normal could look like. Provided all stakeholders, led by the government, get their act together.

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