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Health Diplomacy: Building Resilient Institutions To Combat Healthcare Crisis

by Deepanshi Gupta - 22 March, 2021, 12:00 256 Views 0 Comment

In this pandemic ridden world, to cope with circumstances effectively or speedily, what we lacked the most is global health diplomacy. Almost every country, including India, did not feel a need for health diplomacy as equally relevant and indispensable as defence diplomacy. In the wake of this, this article highlights the urgent  need for the world to focus more on health diplomacy with calibrated efforts to sustain economies.

With the recent pandemic of COVID-19, in this pandemic-ridden world, to cope with circumstances effectively or speedily, what we lacked the most is global health diplomacy. Almost every country, including India, did not feel a need for health diplomacy as equally relevant and indispensable as defence diplomacy. In the wake of this, this article highlights the urgent need for the world to focus more on health diplomacy with calibrated efforts to sustain economies.

With the recent pandemic of COVID-19, it has become essential that we think about building resilient and strong healthcare institutions to improve global healthcare governance. Resilient health institutions are required not only in India but all over the world and that is where the importance of global health governance comes. Such institutions need to come into existence within an international order of global governance as the current pandemic clearly shows that our responses to health issues cannot just be domestic matters.

Raisina Dialogue in January 2020 was evidence of how there is a dearth of health issues being taken seriously in global governance. It showed that IR scholars and policymakers engage in global economics and security issues but don’t give much importance to transnational aspects of health.

Institutions are made resilient by adopting effective and efficient policy decisions. Firstly, global governance needs to take into account health diplomacy. Indian health diplomacy during emergencies has to be far more than sharing a disease control model with other nations. More accountability is needed from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for its guidelines.

Preparedness for public health emergencies regarding identification and testing methodologies, containing the contagion or community transmission and other health facilities including research and development is a major step. Another important set of “pandemic preparedness” relates to external relations of India, UN agencies, international NGOs, businesses, and other transnational actors.

Refrain from taking the diseases lightly and foresee the dangers that these can hit other countries too. The major fault countries committed that they earlier ignored the severity of the issue by being in a utopian world that Corona virus would not spread to other countries from Wuhan, China. The geopolitical factors also need to be taken into account to foresee such things, which the recent governments clearly ignored. The need is to begin mapping the epidemiological risks India faces as well as the repercussions it could face externally, with a special focus on trade and tourism sectors.

Lately, the Modi government seemed to have recognised the importance of global health diplomacy which was evidenced in the video conference organized by PM Modi with SAARC leaders to discuss and share models for responding to COVID-19. However, that is not sufficient, we need to focus on such models regularly. We always cannot wait for the crisis to come to our doorstep to take appropriate actions.

We need to be more inclusive in our policies, we cannot leave poor and unorganized sectors like they do not exist because, in reality, the economy is very much dependent on them for the fulfillment of basic lives of the organized sector. Once the unorganized sector is ignored, its extreme consequences are very much predictable. So we need structured policies in place, built for them along with the organized sector, corporate world and the other sectors too. We need more hospitals than mere pomp and show institutions. We need to set the priorities first because what we are facing is the case of misplaced priorities. We are spending more money on advertisements, religious institutions and other secondary activities like refugee issues. It is also not advisable that we do not need to work for the betterment of refugees but we first need to work for the upliftment of our own citizens. Hence, before sacred religious institutions, we need more health care institutions to ensure survival. We need specialised allocated funds for health emergencies in reserve. We need flexible industries that can shift production to essential commodities easily.

Private clinics have very low levels of knowledge and they often do even less than they know – what is actually referred to as know-do gaps. Hence we need clinical guidelines that are in the local language, and more accessible than are currently available from the Ministry of Health and WHO. The presence of a vast network of medical representatives of the pharmaceutical industry needs to reach informal providers. Set up a surveillance system, including digital ones, to help policymakers learn how to deal with novel pandemics or even outbreaks in the possible future.

Currently, India is facing issues more due to hunger and migration than corona virus, the reason being the delay in adequate testing, poor policies and lack of confidence in the current institutional system. We have abundant stocks of food grains piling up in warehouses but still, we are facing hunger issues, because what we are facing is not a lack of supplies but an inefficient supply chain. Even in lockdown, when we had to meet the household demands only, we lagged in it in spite of a decline in institutional demand and enough resources, because of an inefficient supply chain which definitely needs to be geared up. Hence, what we need is not more supplies but an efficient supply chain urgently as well as in the longer-term.

Lack of strict implementation of laws has always been a lacuna of the Indian legal system. It is necessary to prevent black marketing, hoarding, and corruption in such a crisis which ironically boosts up during a crisis. Hence the strict legal implementation in these areas is needed to mitigate the effects of the crisis.

Along with the above measures, a few short-term measures to make the institutions resilient can be adopted like increasing the production of required equipment, medicines, vaccine and essential commodities. Lockdown was just a short-term measure that could not sustain lives and hence not a panacea in itself and so it cannot be a measure again when another pandemic hits us. Till the point, we do not strengthen our health diplomacy and build resilient health institutions, our response cannot be fully prepared or operational, lest adequate. This pandemic is evident in itself to give lessons of pulling up the socks.

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Deepanshi Gupta
Author is a Political Science graduate from Gargi College, University of Delhi and currently pursuing LLB from Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. She is the recipient of Dr Meera Ramachandran Best All-Rounder Award of Gargi College.
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