Resource centre on India's rural distress

The many lessons from COVID-19 -Soumya Swaminathan

-The Hindu

What we have done so far, and what all remains to be done

The global pandemic is marching on. As I had said at the JRD Tata Oration, hosted by the Population Foundation of India on its 50th anniversary, of the lessons I have learned over the last nine or 10 months, the most important one is the significance of investing in public health and primary healthcare. Countries that invested in primary healthcare over the past decade or two are reaping the benefits now. Another lesson is the positive role of science and scientists. The global collaboration between scientists to take forward advances in knowledge so that science is continuously informing our response to the pandemic has been encouraging.

Gendered impact

In India, the pandemic has had a differential impact on women. Despite gaps, India had seen progress in maternal mortality. There have been significant gains in infant mortality, institutional births and replacement level fertility. However, there is still a high unmet need for family planning and improved access is required to contraceptive services and safe abortions. A recent modelling study showed that because of the reduction in coverage of essential services, the prevalence of wasting in children could increase by 10% to 50%. There could also be 60% more maternal deaths because interventions like the administration of uterotonics and antibiotics, and clean birth environments, are no longer available.

COVID-19 has also disrupted the education system. It has also adversely affected access to nutritious food as a huge number of children depend on school meals.

Another worrying development is the surge in domestic violence. In India, a third of women said that they had previously experienced domestic violence, but less than 1% sought help from the police. Governments can include response to violence against women in the package of essential services.

Many women have lost their work and livelihoods. More women than men work in the informal economy and therefore their income fell by over 60% during the first month of the pandemic. In India, the number of women and girls living in extreme poverty is expected to increase from 87 million to 100 million.

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