A cardinal omission in the COVID-19 package

SourceThe Hindu

Relevance: India needs to focus on Healthcare human resources for improving healthcare.


The Government’s COVID-19 health package II again overlooks the need for and availability of healthcare human resources.

Why healthcare human resources are essential?

In the mid-1980s, there were a number of government healthcare facilities across the country, with newly constructed buildings, imported state-of-the-art medical equipment such as infant radiant warmers, etc.

These were developed with financial and commodity assistance as part of the overseas development assistance (ODA) from many well-intentioned international donors.

But in the following years, these equipments were packed and stacked in storerooms. A key reason was that while infrastructure was upgraded, there was a perennial shortage of health staff, i.e., doctors, nurses and others

About recent initiatives:

Recently, Union government announced the “India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Package: Phase II“. The package aims to boost health infrastructure and prepare India for a possible third wave of COVID-19.

But the Package barely has any attention on improving the availability of health human resources.

How intense is the shortage of healthcare human resources?

Even before the novel coronavirus pandemic, as reported in rural health statistics and the national health profile, there are vacancies for staff in government health facilities, which range from 30% to 80%.

In addition to the overall shortage, there are also wider inter-State variations. Compounding the issues, states that have poor health indicators also have the highest healthcare human resource vacancies.

The Government seems to have recognised the gaps in health infrastructure; however, the shortage in the health workforce is barely being discussed.

Read More: Brain drain in the health sector – Explained, Pointwise
Suggestions to improve Healthcare human resources:

India’s health system will not benefit from ad hoc and a patchwork of one or other small packages. It essentially needs some transformational changes.

  • The COVID-19 package II needs to be urgently supplemented by another plan and a similar financial package to fill the existing vacancies of health staff at all levels.
  • India needs to assess the mid-term healthcare human resource needs and formulate the Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS). IPHS can prescribe the required human resources and infrastructure to make various types of government health facilities functional.
  • The pandemic should be used as an opportunity to prepare India’s health system for the future. So, the government should also take a review of actions taken on the key decisions and Government promises made (to strengthen health services) since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
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