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Regulating the Private Health Sector to Eliminate COVID-19

Both public and private medical services must follow the same pricing standards to treat COVID-19 patients.

The current COVID-19 crisis that India is battling has brought into sharp focus the public health system’s  inadequacy to cope with it. At the time of writing, the media has reported that private laboratories and private hospitals have been permitted to manufacture testing kits and provide treatment, respectively. However, what happened in Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district a couple of weeks ago is strongly illustrative as well as cautionary. A sick doctor suffering from high fever was turned away from four private hospitals. On a social activist’s appeal to the district collector and with the latter’s intervention, the doctor was admitted to the district hospital where, his health having severely deteriorated in the meanwhile, he had to be put on a ventilator. 

The strikingly contradictory scenario of healthcare delivery in the country has been unfolding rapidly over the years. Hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment rivalling five-star hotels in their facilities are mushrooming mostly in cities even as the overburdened public hospitals are valiantly fighting to cope. As far as the rural areas are concerned, the community health centres and primary health centres and sub-centres present an even more dismal picture in terms of availability of medicine stock, trained para-medical staff, and doctors and nurses. However, it is not as if the urban hospitals offer patients excellent care. A common and widely held general misperception is that the private healthcare system is better than the public one. But, complaints of non-transparent billing, demanding exorbitant sums in advance even in a medical emergency, and cutting corners in services are all too familiar, as are cases of the denial of services of which the Jalgaon case is a prime example. In semi-rural areas and towns, the private sector is not necessarily similar to hospitals in cities. The private hospitals in these areas are small, and have basic infrastructure and limited medical and non-medical staff. Unlike the cities, the power and water supply in these areas also constitutes a problem to the functioning of these hospitals. 

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Updated On : 20th May, 2020


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