A year ago when outbreak of coronavirus hit countries across the globe, lockdowns were imposed as the only way out to fight the onslaught of the virus till invention of a vaccine to arrest the pandemic permanently. With the imposition of lockdowns, the engine of global economy unprecedentedly came to a grinding halt and disrupted the global economic supply chain on large scale. This disruption in economic activities saw millions either out of jobs or faced drastic cut in their incomes. Precisely, this extreme health emergency simultaneously turned out as a huge economic crisis. The kind of severe economic depression erupting out of this health emergency was more fearful for the people. In other words, in the first year of the pandemic, it was economic crisis which worried people more than the health crisis.
Now, the vaccine stands invented and vaccination of masses against the virus is in full swing. However, the most worrying factor is the second innings of the deadly virus (COVID-19 2.0), which experts have been calling as deadliest phase. In this phase, the virus is invading populations without showing respect even to those who got themselves vaccinated. The intensity at which it’s spreading across human populations without caring for geographical boundaries and consuming human lives is proving exclusively an extreme health emergency.
Notably, the economic aspect of the pandemic has been taken care of by the governments through series of stimulus packages in the first phase alone. However, there are still huge impediments in the economy recovery process despite these stimulus packages. Those who immediately lost income are still wondering how to lay hand on a job or how to protect their income in the aftermath of the pandemic to ensure economic survival. Most of the self employed are still struggling for being without any income and are equally in a worry how to rebuild their businesses in line with the possible changed socio-economic order. The second phase of the pandemic has almost dashed their hopes of immediate revival of their income resources.
Now, the pace at which COVID-19 2.0 is sweeping human habitations across the globe despite a vaccine in place only suggests that there is something seriously missing in the scientific research to curb the infection permanently. Once again, the situation makes us to believe that growth and development in health infrastructure has not kept pace to the changing environment across the globe. People continue to worry what the future hold for them and the loved ones from now.
The pandemic has exposed the present world order on many fronts. When we look at the quality of life in the given modern outlook, it’s the fragility of health system of even most developed countries like US, which surfaced. Surprisingly, these countries too are equally struggling to curb the spread of this infection, when, otherwise they were supposed to be strong pillars against this kind of health emergency. Even the fastest developing countries like India got exposed for having a fragile healthcare system in place and seems helpless to handle the COVID-19 challenge in absence of appropriate health infrastructure.
While removing the lid on the poor healthcare facilities, the pandemic also put a big question mark on the huge defense expenditure of these countries. Investing huge money on war machinery in the name of national security and attaining a status of most powerful nation in terms of military power has remained an outstanding feature of the present world order. Now the COVID-19 infection has proved this as a wasteful investment. The modern weaponry is no answer to this deadly disease which has threatened human existence irrespective of geographical borders.
Precisely, the pandemic proved world powers’ huge investment in defense infrastructure a futile investment as the huge arms and war machinery has been left useless in this situation. At the same time, the pandemic is a strong reminder that it’s the vibrant healthcare infrastructure, not defense infrastructure which leads to high quality of life and economic prosperity.
So, in the changing world order, which is possibly on cards, there is every possibility that governments would be now forced to focus on rebuilding the health sector and put in place strong infrastructure. There’s hope that post pandemic the governments will make major investment in research and development of healthcare facilities to prevent and combat any pandemic in future. For this, we will see major shift in budget allocations where health sector will get its due share, if not more than the funds allocated to defense sector.
Let me borrow some facts and figures to understand the funding of health sector by the countries belonging to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Today these countries are spending over 10 per cent of their GDP on healthcare. The US spends 16.9 per cent of its GDP on healthcare. India is spending around 3.6 percent of the GDP and the public expenditure component is only 1.5 per cent.
Healthcare system in India both in urban and rural sector has always faced dire need of funds to build infrastructure in terms of more hospitals, equip primary health centers with modern medical equipments and employ more doctors and nurses. Amid economic slowdown in the past few years, when the economy was growing at a low rate of 5 per cent, there was always less hope of government garnering more revenue from business and public. This slowdown didn’t allow the government to expand spending on health. In fact, it led to further shrinking of funds to the health sector and left the government healthcare facilities in shambles.
It has been a nightmare for patients to keep waiting in the queue for hours in government run human saving institutes. Notably, private hospitals are often more accessible but are unaffordable for the common patients.
According to the Centre for Disease, Dynamics, Economics and Policy, Washington, there is a shortage of 600,000 doctors and two million nurses in India. The number of doctors per 1000 population in India is lower than in advanced and other middle-income countries with one government doctor for every 10, 189 people. There is shortage of hospital beds also that leads to terrible congestion in public hospitals where one can see patients lying in the hospital corridors for want of space.
In succinct, COVID induced socio-economic changes, which will have huge impact on the political landscape, are inevitable in the aftermath of pandemic. First thing which governments have to learn is to be proactive to disasters and don’t overreact to problems. The priority should be to put in place such measures which will prevent a disaster to happen rather than taking heroic measures to respond. In other words, the need is not to panic but prepare and preparing for health emergencies in future means the government should spend sufficient money in health sector.
Meanwhile, the outbreak of COVID-19 infection has already started to redefine the modern world. In the first instance, it considerably brought the pace of all economies – be it developed or developing economies, down to almost a grinding halt and trigged never-seen-before economic crisis. Even as countries are fully engaged in curbing the spread of this deadly virus, the fact is that even after controlling the pandemic in the first phase, the governments couldn’t afford to shift their focus away from it. There is no denying the fact that by the time the virus is netted the global scenario would be left with many unprecedented challenges to negotiate. While negotiating these challenges, the socio-economic order is inevitably to change.
A number of futures will emerge on the scene. The possible futures will depend upon the response of the overall society and the respective governments across the globe to this unprecedented coronavirus induced health emergency and its aftermath. It will be a situation where yesterdays priorities will lose priority status and sectors which were treated less significant would assume importance. This crisis has and will continue to throw a series of opportunities to the countries to rebuild their socio-economic infrastructure and produce something better to improve the quality of life of their citizens.
(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)