Anil Goel remembers the night in May he received a call from his desperate nephew asking for money for his Covid treatment. The nephew had been admitted to a private hospital with his wife and four other family members with complications from Covid but had used up all his savings.
“I was shocked at the request as he was about a young man who was doing well in life otherwise. But the high hospital bills and black marketing drained all his savings in a matter of days. After all. , six family members were on life support, ”Goel said.
All six later died. His nephew’s ordeal was a chilling reminder for Goel of the financial vulnerability he and his family faced. All, until then, relied on their life savings and their unequal insurance.
“The prices of everything had exploded. He paid four times the price for ambulances, oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, and even we had to pay extra for cremations after they died. Overall, I believe they spent over 10 million rupees (£ 100,000) on the treatment of the six limbs. Part of it was borrowed or they sold assets, ”said Goel, who contributed around £ 2,000.
His family is just one of millions across India who incurred heavy medical expenses during the pandemic, leaving them bankrupt or burdened with debt.
A study conducted by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), found that a casual worker in India had to work 481 days to cover an episode of intensive care in the hospital.
An Indian with a regular job must spend the equivalent of 124 days of pay to afford hospital isolation from Covid. Intensive care treatment in hospital would cost the self-employed and regular employees 318 days and 232 working days, respectively.
Sakthivel Selvaraj, director of health economics at PHFI, said casual workers were by far the hardest hit by the high costs of Covid care.
Even before the pandemic, Indian health costs were among the highest in the world with millions of people in debt every year due to high medical bills and low public spending. Another PHFI report in 2018 showed that 55 million people fell below the poverty line in just one year in 2011-2012 due to medical expenses.
This year, the second wave of Covid in India has pushed even more people into debt and bankruptcy. With shortages of medicine, oxygen and a predatory hidden market, loans against vehicles, gold and goods are the highest since the start of the pandemic. According to the Reserve Bank of India, outstanding loans against gold jewelry granted by banks grew 82% in one year from March 2021.
As cases skyrocketed during India’s second deadly wave, an ad in a bank’s national newspaper offered personal loans for treatment of Covid. While the interest rate was high, the ad promised citizens that they were all #inhistogether.
The Indian Supreme Court had ordered state governments to cap the fees of private providers, but the decisions were rarely enforced, with people willing to pay out of desperation.
Jayant Singh, who heads a patient rights group, shared what his family faced when his aunt was admitted to hospital with a Covid-related illness.
The hospital in Uttar Pradesh asked for £ 3,000 just to “hold the bed”. “My cousin had to pay thousands of rupees for the ambulance, bedding and other services. Things continue to get worse despite all the calls for help, ”Singh said.
After running out of options, many opted for crowdfunding to pay for the treatment. A leading crowdfunding site in India, Ketto, has seen a huge increase in campaigns during the pandemic, hosting around 125,000 Covid relief calls and raising £ 30million.
“About 80% of the Indian population still has no form of health insurance and 63% of all emergency medical costs are personal expenses. In an emergency, after all options have been exhausted, people turn to crowdfunding as an alternative to financing their medical expenses, ”said Varun Sheth, founder of Ketto.