India’s scramble to create more beds when Covid struck is not surprising considering the fact that there are only 12 countries which fare worse than India on bed availability. India has just five beds for 10,000 Indians. The just released Human Development Report 2020 shows India ranks 155th among 167 countries on bed availability.
The countries with fewer beds to population ratio than India included Uganda, Senegal, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and Nepal. Even Bangladesh is slightly better off with 8 beds per 10,000 people, though it has only 5.8 doctors per 10,000. Yet, Bangladesh has a higher life expectancy of 72.6 and lower infant mortality rate of 26.9 compared to India’s 32 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Poor bed availability points to India’s failure to expand health infrastructure
In comparison, 76 countries have fewer doctors per 10,000 population than India, which includes several countries with vastly better health indices. For instance, Thailand and Vietnam have marginally fewer doctors than India, 8.1 and 8.3 doctors per 10,000, respectively, compared to 8.6 doctors per 10,000 population in India. But Vietnam has 32 beds per 10,000 people. The bed availability data for Thailand is not available in the HDR report, but World Bank data shows that it has about 20 beds per 10,000.
Not only did Vietnam and Thailand handle the Covid pandemic better than not just India but some of the most developed countries, they also have a higher life expectancy of 75.4 and 77.2 years, respectively. India’s life expectancy is 69.7 years.
Countries in the “very high human development” category typically have about 25 to 50 doctors per 10,000 and 25-35 beds per 10,000. In the next category of high human development countries, the availability of beds ranges from 10 to 45 per 10,000 and the availability of doctors ranges from 15 to 40 per 10,000. There are several in this group with a lower doctor-population ratio than India, but none which have fewer beds per 10,000. Most of the countries in the medium human development group, to which India belongs, have fewer doctors per 10,000 population. But only two, Nepal (3) and Guatemala (4), have lower bed availability than India.
The number of beds per 10,000 is used as an indicator of health infrastructure in general and the poor bed availability points to India’s failure to expand its health infrastructure in keeping with the growth in population. However, there is greater focus in India on creating more doctors though even doctors have often complained about the lack of infrastructure as the reason why many do not work in underserved areas.
Considering the extremely poor availability of beds in India, it is little wonder that people were struggling to find beds during the pandemic. There don’t even seem to be enough for regular health needs.