April 2, 2020

Assessing Healthcare Capacity in India

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We assess India’s healthcare capacity by comparing several countrywide and state-level metrics: per capita spending on healthcare, healthcare spending priority in budgets, hospital bed capacity, and capacity in terms of doctors, nurses, and total healthcare personnel. We find that, overall, India has very fragile healthcare infrastructure for dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. We make three recommendations: (1) India’s private-sector healthcare system has more capacity than government facilities, so the Indian government will need to rely on and incentivize the private sector by increasing funding and removing bottlenecks. (2) Healthcare capacity varies across states, and the union government should identify and assist at-risk states. (3) Compared to rural areas, urban areas are very poorly served by the state hospitals, creating an urgent need for state governments to identify and assist at-risk, high-density urban areas. In the absence of a vaccine, the lockdown may have to continue longer with measures such as a universal basic income implemented for the poor, allowing India to swiftly build up its healthcare infrastructure.