By Simran Kaur, Final year law student, UILS, Punjab University, Chandigarh.
The country’s healthcare resources are drained, exposing the hollow infrastructure and policy protection for its health care ‘warriors’ as India battles the most ruthless wave of the deadly coronavirus pandemic which has claimed thousands of lives and still counting. The nation ranks at 155 of 167 countries on the parameter of the hospital bed density with a deplorably disproportionate ratio of healthcare workers and medical workforce to cater to its citizens. Its share globally of the population vaccinated stands at a mere 7.7 percent. The National Health Policy of 2017 propels public sector manufacturing units for an uninterrupted supply of quality vaccines. But in reality it’s the private sector that is benefitting and thus carrying out discriminatory practices under the guise of revamping the vaccination drive of getting them to speed up. The price of procurement of vaccines by the centre and state governments at Rs.150 and 400 respectively might have crippled away but higher prices of vaccines obtained by states and private hospitals from the manufacturers themselves in case the Centre runs out of supplies, thus remains an impediment for crucial healthcare service. The legacy of the nation which has been administering Universal Vaccination Programme in public health crises has hit a severe low blow as sporadic humanitarian disasters unfold in broad daylight for over days now. As opposed to previous year’s declaration by the government that once the vaccines are procured they will be distributed under a special COVID Immunisation Programme, it has now been accused of conceding to a set of vaccine policy that is manifestly discriminatory and bends in favour of the market over masses gasping for breath.
In most countries around the world, the governments are buying vaccines directly from the firms and distributing them at no costs. About 91 crore adults over 18 years of age will require vaccination and each person requiring two doses makes it a total of 182 crore doses. As per the policy if the government is mandated to Rs 200 per dose, the total would be somewhat Rs 36,400 crore. The Finance Minister of India while presenting the Budget, allocated Rs 35,000 crore for vaccination stating that the number can go up in case of any exigencies arising. Thus the Union Budget Allocation is fairly well equipped to cover the vaccination expenses of the whole country.
As the visuals of mass cremations of covid infected patients on any available public place go viral and the wails of helpless distraught people dragging their infected family members’ sears through the conscience, the Central Government evades responsibility. The plan to set up the 162 oxygen plants was stalled due to unexplained administrative delays rendering a meager number of plants to be functional, not enough to clamp down on the tsunami that has caused acute oxygen shortage. Neither the need to vaccinate the lowest rung of its society is kept at a priority, that only last year bore the brunt of one of the worst humanitarian crises fraught with languishing masses walking thousands of miles without any basic amenities at their disposal. Neither there is invocation of compulsory licensing which is warranted under the Indian Patents Act 1970 and section 31 of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) WTO Agreement by the Government allowing manufacture of Covishield and Covaxin across public and private sector facilities in the country in the wake of differential pricing creating accessibility issues. An ailing virtually squeezed out public health system puts the interpretation of the right to health as a fundamental human right under Article 21 which ordains us with right to life in jeopardy as it violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution implores that everyone is equal before the Law and the state ought to treat every citizen equally in wake of citizens.
The cornerstone of the vaccination policy has been the differential pricing and a decentralized mechanism of procurement which falls foul of the principle of federalism. The Central government would be able procure its share of the vaccine at a much cheaper rate, while the states would have to pay a much higher price demanded by the manufacturer. Taking cognizance of this, the Apex Court raised alarm about the rationale underlying this differentiated pricing and decentralized procurement by drawing attention towards the beneficiary of the vaccine, the citizens. The Court put forth its dismay at the Centre’s decision of allowing COVID-19 vaccine makers to sell half of their stock directly to states and the open market, which creates the problem of accessibility and lop sided management of spearheading tasks of ensuring vaccination of all.
On so many levels this pandemic has revealed the astounding humane and deep seated ugly side of diplomacy and the beauty of solidarity from varied spectrums. The anvil of human rights as innumerable deaths go unaccounted for is perhaps the only grounding that helps establish the liability of the powerful stakeholders in the crisis at the helm of the narrative.