COVID-19 in India is painting a deceptive picture at the moment. Many might be complacent at the low numbers but a careful gaze can throw anyone off balance. Despite India sending ‘go corona go’ lighting messages rising high to the sky, the growing number of coronavirus cases makes it imperative to cast some light on things to come, particularly in the context of India’s health infrastructure. While all countries are focusing their efforts to “flatten the curve”, their real objective is to prevent their respective health systems from being under pressure or failing.
Although numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths are still low, experts warn if community spread of the disease gets out of hand, India’s health system can really come under pressure. That is when it can really hit home that various governments over the decades did precious little when it comes to India’s spending on health infrastructure.
According to India’s National Health Profile 2019, there are 7,13,986 government hospital beds available in India. This amounts to 0.55 beds per 1000 population. The same number for the elderly (aged above 60) is slightly better and is 5.18 beds per 1000 population.
In the 12 states listed below that figure is below 0.55 beds per 1000 population. They states are:
These 12 states collectively account for approximately 70% of India’s population. Bihar has as low as 0.11 beds per 1000 population. West Bengal (2.25 government beds per 1000) and Sikkim (2.34 government beds per 1000) fare a notch better. The capital city of Delhi has 1.05 beds per 1000 population.
With now Tablighi Jamaat’s Delhi infection scare looking real, there is a question of how Delhi will manage should the community transmission get out of hand. On any estimate 5-10% of patients will require critical care and ventilator support in ICUs. One estimate suggested India with a population of 1.3 billion, may end up with 2.2 million cases by mid May and will require 110,000 to 220,000 ICU beds /ventilators. According to a health analysis report, India may have between 35,699 to 57,119 ICU beds with approximately only 50% of those beds between 17850 – 25, 556, with ventilators. That is far less than the required number, should the community transmission in India continue unchecked and underreporting of cases and false negatives keeping the authorities complacent.
In the week between 30 March and 6 April, India on infection and number of deaths increases in percentage numbers, has outstripped Italy, Spain, United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany and many other countries. To understand the context of COVID-19 India, and to view the table, click here.
Let us all hope Modi’s ‘go corona go’ prayers are successful. With country’s health infrastructure in such a poor shape (of being at about 1/7th of what would be required should be have infections level at controllable levels, India may be in for a real challenge. – Ramakrishna VenuGopal