The Covid-19 pandemic has been life-changing, altering everything from our morning rituals to our life objectives and ambitions.

It has provided everyone an opportunity to reexamine their personal lives. Many would say that the world has irrevocably changed.

Tackling the pandemic and its immediate effects is a current priority, but lasting lessons from this crisis are just as vital, if not more so. Having survived Covid-19 helped me understand the broader challenges of healthcare in India and society.

Collective well-being

The foremost lesson has been the importance of families, communities, and collective well-being. Access to reliable, affordable health services and information is a necessity, not a privilege. It is an important part of maintaining good health and well-being.

The discourse on mental health through the numerous lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 is critical and should be taken forward. Covid-19 not only took a physical toll but also had emotional, mental and economic ramifications. While our perspectives on life may have changed, collectively, we must also look at the bigger picture: health institutions and the systems that surround us.

Investing in health systems and public health is a critical, primary step towards accessible and affordable healthcare. This must be accompanied by people-centered interventions.

In India, public health has long been neglected at the Centre as well as by a majority of the states.

The economic survey, tabled in Parliament on January 31, showed that the budgeted expenditure of state and central governments on health in the current financial year was 2.1% of the country’s, or GDP, gross domestic product.

The struggles many Indians faced during the pandemic is a cruel reminder of the need to modernise and reimagine public health programmes globally and in high-disease burden countries, like India. The country’s diagnostic infrastructure is inadequate, underfunded and needs investment. India must also urgently focus on new and innovative diagnostics as well as engage with new technology.

Women being treated for respiratory issues at a hospital in New Delhi in November 2018. Credit: Reuters.

Being future-prepared

Even today, many Indians lack access to basic treatments. This was made clear during Covid-19 but also remains true for other diseases. The country needs an investment in medical treatment for health concerns as well as a long-term plan to create excellence in this sector.

As ordinary people like me struggled every day, the pandemic highlighted the necessity of proper infrastructure throughout the entire healthcare system. Health personnel were exhausted amid shortages.

The poor infrastructure, physical as well as in the form of manufacturing capacity, was laid bare with the shortage of hospital beds, medical technology, and the limited manufacturing capacity of much-needed medical devices such as masks, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and oxygen concentrators.

During the deadly second wave of the pandemic, triggered by the delta variant, from April to June 2021, hospitals across major cities grappled with a shortage of beds, ventilators, oxygen and critical medicines. Launching a national infrastructure effort for healthcare is a necessity.

It was evident firsthand how quickly science can advance when there is a coordinated and focused effort, with strong backing from regulatory bodies and international healthcare organisations like the World Health Organization. This was best seen with the fast-paced development of vaccines and tests, though ensuring their equitable distribution remained a major challenge.

To be better equipped for future health hazards, science must advance steadily and its innovations have to be made affordable and accessible. It is a cruel irony that a large part of the world, even till date, lacks access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Given the crisis many of us experienced since 2020 when the pandemic broke out, as well as the catastrophic effects it has had on the country and the world, there is little doubt that Covid-19 was a turning point in human history. It was, perhaps, one of the worst health catastrophes that India’s public health system has ever experienced.

To ensure that the deficiencies the pandemic revealed are effectively addressed, a health recovery and preparation plan is key. It will be naive to think Covid-19 is the last pandemic, more will come. The main question is did we learn anything to be prepared for the next one?

Rishu Pandey is a Covid-19 survivor, advocate and public health communications professional.