The Hindu, December 21, 2020
There should be a comprehensive public health Act with suitable legal provisions to keep checks and controls over private hospitals in times of a pandemic and to curb black marketing of medicines, the standing committee on Home Affairs, headed by Congress leader Anand Sharma, has said in a report that was submitted to Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu on Monday.
There had been several reported instances of beds reserved for COVID-19 patients in private hospitals being sold at exorbitant rates, the report noted.
“The committee strongly recommends a comprehensive public health Act, preferably at the national level with suitable legal provisions to support the government in keeping checks and controls over private hospitals as there have been reports about the selling of hospital beds by them,” the report said.
The Act, it stated, should keep a check on black marketing of medicines and product standardisation. It flagged the initial confusion over medicines that ‘helped’ in containing the COVID-19 infection and how they were sold at higher rates. It suggested that the government should be proactive by holding awareness campaigns on cheaper and effective repurposed medicines to prevent people from panicking and spending a huge amounts of money on expensive drugs.
The committee observed that in the initial phase of the pandemic, medical insurance was not extended to patients with COVID-19 infection. With exorbitant charges levelled by private hospitals, many had to suffer. “There is need to have regulatory oversight on all hospitals working in the country to prevent refusal to accept insurance claims. The committee strongly recommends that the target should be to make COVID-19 treatment cashless for all people that are having insurance coverage,” the report notes.
While appreciating the work done by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) by coming out with standard operating procedures (SOPs), guidelines and awareness generation, and most importantly, acting as a nodal centre for funding manpower deployment to meet exigencies, the committee said the ongoing pandemic was unlike any natural disaster that the NDMA had handled.
“The committee recommends that a separate wing may be formed in the NDMA that will specialise in handling /managing pandemics like COVID-19 in future. This wing may take a leading role in building a partnership of government with the public sector, corporates, NGOs and other stakeholders,” the report observed.
At the time of a pandemic, measures should be taken to avoid social stigma and fear of isolation and quarantine, by making people aware and treating them with respect and empathy, the report said.
On the economic front, the committee said that while the government had taken a host of measures to ameliorate the impact of the pandemic on the economy, many schemes have not been implemented properly. “The committee observes that few of these schemes need effective implementation at the ground level. The problems being faced by farmers, non-corporate and non-farm small/micro enterprises in getting loans need to be addressed,” the report pointed out.
Consumption had been severely curtailed due to huge job loss and fall in income due to the lockdown. It would take some time to mend, especially after the GDP having a contraction of 23.9% in the first quarter of 2020-21. The report said that more interventions and schemes were required to support the recovery and to sustain this economic revival especially for the MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) sector.
The committee expressed concern that with schools shut down now for more than nine months, many children were deprived of mid-day meal. Many States continued the scheme by delivering dry ration to students at their homes or giving them allowances. But this was not uniform.
“The committee, therefore, strongly recommends that the Ministry of Home Affairs, along with the Department of Food and Public Distribution, take up the matter with the State governments to ensure that the local administrations are delivering the rations/ allowances in time and this should be continued until the schools reopen,” the report said.
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