Dr. Alexander Thomas (APHI), led the discussion by addressing the issues faced by healthcare facilities. His talk, divided into three segments, focused on the health sector pre-COVID, the current situation of the healthcare sector and its future prospects. Reflecting on the poor state of government healthcare facilities, Dr. Thomas discussed the occupancy of the private healthcare industry, while also addressing the main issue behind the failure of government aided healthcare.
According to Dr. Thomas, the shortage of specialists across all states seems to be the key reason as to why government facilities are struggling to compete with larger, privately funded hospital chains. Ironically, there is no shortage of doctors within the country. Dr. Thomas addresses the fact that there are thousands of qualified medical graduates who have studied abroad, and are unable to practice medicine because of the low percentage of qualifiers in the NEET examinations.
Dr. Thomas also addressed the poor standard of medical equipment, limited usage of technology and India’s history of importing equipment from China. Referring to the demand for healthcare professionals is, given the current crisis, Dr. Thomas pointed out that prior to the global spread of the pandemic, the Union Health Ministry decided to phase out the General Nursing and Midwifery Diploma. He also took into account the number of B.Sc Nurses who emmigrate to other countries for better livelihoods.
India’s Response to the pandemic
According to Dr. Thomas, India was not entirely unprepared for a situation such as the current COVID-19 crisis. He believes that the government is closely working with the private health sector, working on strategic measures that will aid the general public if there was to be a dramatic spike in the number of cases. Dr. Thomas highlighted the low morale of healthcare workers, addressing the fact that many professionals are on the frontline, unequipped. In reference to the decrease in income due to the fall in outpatients and elective surgeries, Dr. Thomas elaborated on the economic issues faced in hospitals and the lack of pay for healthcare professionals.
Dr. Thomas highlighted that the main victims of this crisis are those who are unable to access treatment for various ailments. He also acknowledged the role of AHPI (Association of Healthcare Providers India) and their efforts in legalizing telemedicine, which he believes will aid people with quality care.
In the final segment of his talk, he addressed the healthcare industry’s journey ahead. It will be very unwise, stated Dr. Thomas, for the government to let private health institutions close. Explaining that the private sector would shut down without the government's active participation during this crisis, Dr. Thomas expressed the need for cooperation between the government and the private sector.
Dr. Thomas highlighted the importance of technology and its role as a vital tool in making healthcare affordable. He also stated that cutting the costs of tuition at medical colleges would result in an increase of healthcare professionals. In his concluding statements, Dr Thomas stressed that India does not lack human resources. He believes that by combining affordable and quality education, along with the cooperation of the government through an increase in the healthcare budget and upgradating of public hospitals, India can not only combat the crisis but also provide aid to other nations.