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COVID-19 overburdened the country’s health system and services. The early months of the outbreak were particularly taxing for the States with weaker health systems.

The inability of the private sector to share the burden drove the point home that healthcare services cannot be left to independent forces.

In India, health-related public policies and healthcare infrastructure have often been a matter of discussion among policymakers.

Yet, they rarely become a political issue. However, it would be a mistake to imagine that citizens do not care about health facilities. Years before the ongoing pandemic drew attention to these issues, a study (‘State of Democracy in South Asia (SDSA)–Round 3’) by Lokniti-CSDS in 2019 found that people expect the government to take maximum responsibility for providing basic medical care.

But when it comes to voting, health never becomes an electoral issue for voters; nor do political parties generally focus on health infrastructure in their manifesto or campaign.

India has long been in need of a ubiquitous healthcare system. A study (‘State of Democracy in South Asia (SDSA)–Round 3’) by Lokniti-CSDS in 2019 highlighted how access to public health care remained elusive to those living on the margins.

The study found that 70 per cent of the locations have public healthcare services. However, availability was less in rural areas (65 per cent) compared to urban areas (87 per cent).

In 45 per cent of the surveyed locations, people could access healthcare services by walking, whereas in 43 per cent of the locations they needed to use transport.

The survey also found that proximity to healthcare services is higher in urban localities: 64 per cent of the enumerators in urban areas observed that people can access healthcare services by walking, while only 37 per cent in rural areas can do so

The Prime Minister had recently launched another scheme, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM), a flagship digital initiative involving the creation of not just a unique health ID for every citizen, but also a digital healthcare professionals and facilities registry.

The healthcare system in India needs to be made accessible to the needy and people living on the margins of society.

The absence of a positive experience with public healthcare not only pushes people towards private healthcare facilities, but also pushes the issue of health out of public political considerations.

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