Published: 30th March 2020
Only half a hospital bed for every 1000 Indians. Why we need to worry about Corona patients who need critical care
We are not only behind when it comes to hospital beds but we are also lagging in the number of doctors and nurses
Dr Girdhar Gyani, the convenor of a task force on COVID-19 hospitals has confirmed that we have entered Stage 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether the Indian government accepts it or not. More than 1119 people have been diagnosed with the disease — 149 new cases, including several deaths (death toll has surged to 31), have been reported since Friday. But do we have enough beds, physicians or medical staff to treat the affected? we ask as India gears up to fight the virus.
There is a simple answer to the above question — no. We have 7,13,986 government hospital beds for around 137 crore people — which amounts to about 0.5 beds for every 1000 people, says the National Health Profile 2019. Even if we factor in the beds available in not just public but private, general, and specialised hospitals and rehabilitation centres as well, the number goes up to 0.7 beds per 1000 people. Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Assam and Manipur are in the worst shape — Bihar has only 0.11 beds available per 1000 people. While national capital Delhi has 1.05 beds per 1000, some states like West Bengal and Sikkim have 2.25 and 2.34 beds per 1000 people.
But Dr Gyani says that having beds available for around 0.01 per cent of the population should do. In an interview with The Quint, he said, "Let’s say Delhi has a population of 3 crore. We said we should keep at least 3,000 hospital beds ready. And separate COVID-19 centres would also be required for those who are to be kept in quarantine or those who have recovered from the Coronavirus infection. Such centres can be made by converting guesthouses and hostels."
Beds are not the only thing you need for treatment though. "We often forget one thing when we consider these stats — admitting the patient does not ensure treatment. There has to be a physician attending them and medical staff looking after them and we do not match WHO's recommendations there," said a doctor attached with a private hospital in Kolkata, on condition of anonymity. India has one doctor for every 1,457 people, which is lower than the World Health Organisation norm of 1:1000, Minister of State for Health Ashwini Choubey said in reply to a question in Rajya Sabha on July 2. As per Indian Nursing Council (INC) records, there are around 30.4 lakh nursing personnel registered in the country as on December 31, 2018. Assuming 60 per cent availability in the case of registered nurses and registered midwives and 80 per cent availability in the case of auxiliary nurse midwives or lady health visitors, it is estimated that around 20 lakh nursing personnel are available for active services, which gives a nurse-population ratio of about 1:675 against WHO norms 3:1000.
Around 5-10 per cent of total patients need ventilator support. At the rate, this pandemic is processing experts say that we would need something around 2,20,000 ventilators. A report by research organisation Brookings says that an estimated 17,850 to 25,556 ventilators are there in the country. "Even in the best-case scenario where all ICU beds are equipped with ventilators, we have a maximum of around 57,000 ventilators to cater to a growing number of COVID-19 patients. Clearly, the growing demand for ventilators is going to outstrip the limited supply really soon," read the report. While researchers across the country are trying to find solutions to these problems, it is to see whether that will be enough.