India’s experience of the pandemic will be defined by this enormous second wave. But the chamber of horrors the country now finds itself in was not caused by any one man [Prime Minister Narendra Modi], or any single government. It is the greatest moral failure of our generation.
India may be classified as a developing or middle-income country, and by international standards, it does not spend enough on the health of its people. Yet this masks many of India’s strengths in the health-care sector: Our doctors are among the best trained on the planet, and as is well known by now, our country is a pharmacy for the world, thanks to an industry built around making cost-effective medicines and vaccines.
What is evident, however, is that we suffer from moral malnutrition—none of us more so than the rich, the upper class, the upper caste of India. And nowhere is this more evident than in the health-care sector.
India’s economic liberalization in the ’90s brought with it a rapid expansion of the private health-care industry, a shift that ultimately created a system of medical apartheid: World-class private hospitals catered to wealthy Indians and medical tourists from abroad; state-run facilities were for the poor. Those with money were able to purchase the best available care (or, in the case of the absolute richest, flee to safety in private jets), while elsewhere the country’s health-care infrastructure was held together with duct tape. The Indians who bought their way to a healthier life did not, or chose not to, see the widening gulf. Today, they are clutching their pearls as their loved ones fail to get ambulances, doctors, medicine, and oxygen.
I have covered health and science for nearly 20 years, including as the health editor for The Hindu, a major Indian newspaper. That time has taught me that there is no shortcut to public health, no opting out from it. Now the rich sit alongside the poor, facing a reckoning that had only ever plagued the vulnerable in India.
Averting our gaze from the tragedies surrounding us, remaining divorced from reality, in our little bubbles, are political and moral choices. We have been willfully unaware of the ricketiness of our health-care system. The collective well-being of our nation depends on us showing solidarity with and compassion toward one another. No one is safe until everyone is. [Continue reading…]