Healthcare and Capacity Building in the wake of a pandemic

As the Covid-19 pandemic surged, hospitals worldwide struggled to manage the sudden influx of infected people on top of their usual patient loads. Even though the big hospitals usually have a 'surge plan' in place and can build capacity when needed, Covid-19 pushed the entire healthcare system to its limit, resulting in sub-optimal healthcare outcomes. According to a study in the US, nearly one in every four Covid-19 deaths may be attributed to case overload.

Closer to home, the healthcare system faced multifold challenges. For example, rocketing real-time demand due to staff unavailability and burnout, limited space and supplies, shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) to treat patients, and insufficient intensive care units were common risk factors for poor Covid-19 patient outcomes.

According to the Union Health Ministry, the doctor-population ratio in India stands at 1:1,456 in 2020, amongst the lowest in the world, and a far cry from the WHO recommended ratio of 1:1,000. This is primarily due to a paucity of trained primary-care staff and physicians.

As per a 2016 study by the WHO on the health workforce in India, the density of healthcare workers in urban areas was four times that of rural areas, clearly highlighting the unwillingness of existing MBBS-trained physicians to go to remote/rural populations. This translates into disproportionate strain on doctors in rural areas who are already ill-equipped and community health workers and NGOs. Limited by such congenital problems and societal constructs, the healthcare system is inequitable and expensive for many.

Due to the pandemic-induced recession, India slid back into 'mass poverty' after 45 years, the number of poor people has spiked to 134 million from 60 million in just a year. Survival is a challenge for millions of people, whereas healthcare is a luxury that most cannot afford. As a result, primary healthcare is not a priority in the majority of Indian households. Parallelly, the frontline healthcare workers are more than often under-valued and under-equipped. They also face societal issues like the dignity of labour and class-factor since the sector is not perceived as a well-paying, 'respectable' field. Thus, leading to a general disinterest in the profession among the youth.

There is an urgent need to allocate resources to healthcare to address the skewed doctor-patient ratio and the lack of affordable, quality healthcare to the masses. One of the effective ways to do that is to encourage participation in primary healthcare by private players to augment the efforts that have been made.

Covid-19 has led many urban cities to recognise the need to boost their existing capacities. For instance, since the second wave, Gurgaon's hospital bed capacity has gone up by 24%. However, that alone is not enough; we need to actively identify areas of capacity building for better health outcomes, especially in the face of an unanticipated crisis like Covid-19.

The current scenario is a wake-up call for healthcare providers and a fitting time to deploy and invest more resources towards technology-driven solutions that can translate into a systems-level change. The use of real-life data to improve the efficiency of medical professionals will play a key role in unburdening the current workforce. At LifeUno, we empower the clients by ensuring that their health data is owned and managed by them at all times and assist the medical professionals in an easy-to-understand format to help with more accurate and faster diagnosis and treatment.

It is time to develop our healthcare capacity so that no matter where a patient is treated, and regardless of their current state, they are given the best chance modern science can offer.

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