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OPINION | When will India get respite from the COVID-19 pandemic?

We are grappling with scarcity of every kind. Hospital beds, ICU’s, ventilators, life saving drugs, the air we breathe – the oxygenated one is all in short supply and barely manageable even for the best connected or the highest bidder.

OPINION | When will India get respite from the COVID-19 pandemic?

New Delhi | Tarun Gupta: As the vice like grip of Covid continues to strangulate, it isn’t hard to discern the dominant mood of the nation. It is a blend of melancholy and rage. What we are seeing is mayhem. There are scenes of indescribable grief. Those stifled emotional wallows, those howls of anguish are veering towards an inchoate anger that threatens to engulf and disrupt.

We are grappling with scarcity of every kind. Hospital beds, ICU’s, ventilators, life saving drugs, the air we breathe – the oxygenated one is all in short supply and barely manageable even for the best connected or the highest bidder. What a travesty, we grew up philosophising that available for free were only love and air! This breath of life is more precious and rare than it ever has been. Tweaking the lines of the famous Bahadur Shah Zafar ghazal – ‘saans leni mujhe mushkil kabhi aise to na thi.’

If the treatment of the sick wasn’t sick enough, the handling of the mortal remains, the state of cremation grounds convinces one that there isn’t any dignity even in death. A perusal of reports that things may get worse before they get better makes one shudder at the prospect. What can be worse and how worse can it get?

We may never precisely know whether the increased mortality has been a result of severity of the new variants or lack of medical care. It still doesn’t take away from our failure on all three accounts - anticipating this second wave, preparing for it and now dealing with it. What good can flow from such unabashed castigation of the powers that be? We expect an unequivocal realisation and need concerted action. Relate that to a healing touch followed by a vital surgery.

The immediacy of enhancing vaccination can hardly be overstated. Yet the conversations around it are exasperating. We argue on pricing when what we require are exorbitant supplies. The pharmaceutical companies have worked tirelessly to develop and manufacture the vaccine for the novel virus in record time. They cannot be denied their due. When will we forsake this mindset that profit is a bad word? It is this thought process that has shackled us from creating capacities. With so much speculation on probable future pandemics likely to be still more lethal, how wise is it to curb the innovation zeal of our pharma sector? God forbid, if and when the next calamity strikes, can the disincentivised scientists be expected to repeat such stupendous effort? Yes every citizen is entitled to be vaccinated. It is, however, incumbent upon the state to provide for the same. Lets not burden the private sector with what really is a government obligation.

While we begrudge the vaccine manufacturers their legitimate profit, the illegal, immoral and disproportionate profiteering and black-marketing of essential drugs, oxygen cylinders and concentrators continues to wreck havoc and on our watch. How long will it take to rein them?

These are strangely contrasting times. On one hand we see an outpouring of compassion by members of civil society going all hog to help, on the other there has been this contemptible exploitation by some malevolent profiteers – perhaps a human embodiment of divinity and Satan.

There is no denying that between the first and the second wave, a lot more could have been done. It shouldn’t however deflect attention from the enormous historical deficiencies of our health sector. It has been underinvested and decrepit since much before the pandemic.

To put in perspective, USA spends 17 per cent of its GDP on health while we languish at less than 2 per cent. Factoring the size of the economies and population, the consequent per capita numbers further widen the chasm. The solution is in earning more money to be able to spend and while that remains a work in progress, prioritising outlays from our limited resources. I do not subscribe to this clamor of reducing the defense budget. There are though plenty subsidies, unproductive expense that should be revisited, from where money can be drawn for medical and other pressing agendas. While we yearn for improvement in quality of government service, lets visualise the role of the state restricted to health, education, infrastructure, defense and law and order. Our government should cease to spread itself too thin and strive to attain first world standards in these spheres.

Well that may be a medium to a long-term vision. As of now the immediacy of countering this catastrophe is overbearing. There has never been a more dire and prompt need of any and every conceivable succor. As citizens we can only raise questions. The nuanced response and answers of what and how have to come from the governance machinery. A ray of hope emerges from few reports that perhaps the infection may have started to plateau in some states. Whether this modicum of good news heralds a tide turn, we shall know in due course.

Our wait to be touched by state power and largesse continues. Let’s not though forget that essential ingredients in the survival of human civilisation have been hope and cooperation. Please hang in there and help each other. They say the night is at its darkest just before the break of dawn.

(Disclaimer: The above article has been written by Tarun Gupta. The views expressed in the article are of the author and Jagran New Media does not take the responsibility of the views expressed here)

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