Happy New Beginnings Everyone!

The year 2020 inflicted too many atrocities on our nation. Off course, we will blame it on the pandemic, but the truth remains that COVID-19 magnified systemic health inequities that have long been perpetuated by barriers in access to care, and financial disincentives. Many Indians experienced access to COVID-19 tests in the initial times. Even face masks where exorbitantly priced and were available in short supply. That didn’t end there. As cases began to mount, beds weren’t available. While the government and private sector tried their best to accommodate as many people as possible, yet these efforts lacked the desired outcomes. Sandwiched between the need to seek healthcare services and affordability, many had drained their pockets in COVID-19 treatment as ICU and bed charges at private hospital sky-rocketed. Black marketing of drugs such Remdesivir, Favipiravir and Dexamethasone used for COVID-19 treatment added up to the woes. Amidst this turmoil, many lost their jobs. The situation still remains pathetic for many families as they gather courage to tide over the coming storm that will make a hole in their pockets if the job market doesn’t get better in the coming times.

Well, this  is not a sob story. But, a glimpse into the past year. While fighting the fires around and learning key lessons for the future, Indians kept moving forward in order to bring normalcy to life and improve business and economic activity. 

India did well on many fronts; especially, our exemplary efforts in producing home-grown innovation and fixing the demand-supply gap in PPEs, face masks and ventilators. Our efforts paid off well, when India became the first country to have the highest recovery rate. And guess what after months of constant war-footing we still have the highest recovery rate.

But now, it’s time to think about the future. The one that brings hope and prosperity. And the one that builds a better healthcare system for India.

All eyes yearn to see the positive outcomes of the coming COVID-19 vaccine drive that we will witness today. 

On the very first day of the year Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare chaired a high-level meeting to review preparedness at session sites across the country for COVID-19 vaccination trial run. While senior officials of the Ministry apprise that various improvement measures are already taken to ensure that the Pan-India dry-run can be conducted glitch free. Some of these measures include increased number of telephone operators who will answer every possible query from the on-ground teams conducting the dry-run; block level task forces constituted for physical inspection of the sites; all workers have been oriented for the purpose with the dissemination of FAQs on the process, among other issues.

The minister went on to emphasise that the need for a perfect calibration between the administrative and medical officers to make the event a primer that would later enable the mass implementation of vaccination drive.

This certainly looks like a plan and the success of it can be ascertained. But the real deal is when the vaccination drive actually begins.

Questions begin to loom.

Will all those who need the vaccine will have the access to it? Will it be affordable in the private sector? Or will this initiative be abused by the hands of black marketers? Or will this historical vaccination drive exacerbate health disparity?

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic is distinct from any health crisis the country has previously faced, there are still many parallels. For example, the Ministry would like to take inferences from the Pulse Polio drive of 1994 that has been one of India’s greatest success stories. 

Dr Harsh Vardhan stated that as the exercise of vaccination is so integrally based on interaction and involvement of people, the relevant stakeholders, NGOs, Civil Society Organization (CSOs) and others need to be mobilised. He also stressed on the need for adequate security arrangements at session sites, cold chain points and during vaccine transportation.

Having said that, history has shown that one of the largest challenge in vaccine distribution is convincing the public of a vaccine’s safety and efficacy. Public distrust of a vaccine is higher than ever due to the politicisation of healthcare. This is the most worrying part and can have a direct impact on the outcomes of the drive.

Therefore, an effective strategy for supporting vaccination efforts in across the country will require a thoughtful approach that builds upon lessons from our past, keeping health equity and public interest at the heart of all things.

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