The parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs in its report earlier this month called for a comprehensive Public Health Act. Among others, the report called for encompassing suitable legal provisions within its ambit to keep checks and controls over private hospitals and to curb black marketing of medicines as well as product standardisation.
Importantly also, the report flagged the initial confusion over medicines that ‘helped’ in containing the novel coronavirus and how they were sold at higher rates. The government, it said, should be proactive by holding awareness campaigns on cheaper and effective repurposed medicines to prevent people from panicking and spending huge amounts of money on expensive drugs. The report is in response to the extreme stresses caused by COVID-19 and it is a welcome call to reform a fragmented health system.
The report also comes in the backdrop a propped a bill –Health Service Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of violence and damage to property) Bill 2019” by the health ministry to address the issue of assault on health care service personnel and clinical establishments.
The MHA has opposed it and among the main reasons, it said that enacting separate legislation for prohibiting violence against doctors and other health care professionals would give rise to similar demands from other categories of professionals like media persons, advocates, bankers, charted accountants, etc. The government has not taken a clear view on the draft legislation but the call for reforms in the health sector needs a clear look, keeping in view the Health Profile 2019 data which showed that there were an estimated 0.55 government hospital beds for 1,000 people across India, not to talk of J&K. Beyond doubt there is pressing need for larger investment in the public health sector. The committee has called for a comprehensive law that will curb profiteering during crises such as the one at hand on account of the covid-19 and providing robust health insurance. Prolonged underinvestment in public health infrastructure has left many people seeking help from the private sector. The situation is even worse in rural areas. The legal reforms are imperative, especially when there is highly commercialized private sector with little regulatory oversight.