Covid-19 survivor tales: How pandemic created mounting medical debts to bankrupt Indians
New Delhi, Aug 04: The Coronavirus pandemic has left plenty of Indians saddled with medical bills they cant pay. Many Indians continue to struggle with medical bills especially those who are uninsured and medical debt.
When Anil Sharma's son had contracted the coronavirus and had to be admitted to a private hospital in northwest New Delhi for nearly two months for treatment of severe COVID symptoms, his family was forced to shell out 25 lakhs.
Saurav is now home, still frail and recovering. But the family's joy is tempered by a mountain of debt generated while he was sick.
Sharma, a marketing professional, exhausted his all savings on paying for an ambulance, tests, medicines and an ICU bed. Then he took out bank loans. As the costs mounted, he borrowed from friends and relatives. Overall, Sharma says he has paid over Rs 37,21,500 in medical bills.
''Doctor said that my son was in critical situation, it was a horrible experience. I couldn't enter the ICU ward. But day and night i waited outside the ward in anticipation that my son would need me any moment,''
People like Anil was forced to take loans that he is now all struggling every day to pay back.
"If you're looking at what pushes people into debt or poverty, the top two sources often are out-of-pocket health expenditure and catastrophic costs of treatment," said K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India.
In the northeastern city of Imphal, 2,400 km away, Diana Khumanthem lost both her mother and sister to the virus in May.
She said treatment costs wiped out the family's savings and when the private hospital where her sister died wouldn't release her body for last rites until a bill was paid. Khumanthem pawned the family's gold jewelry to moneylenders.''1 lakh per day was too much. When all the money she had wasn't enough, Khumanthem asked her friends, relatives and her sister's colleagues for help. She still owes some Rs 74,251.
While the virus has affected the poor across the globe, the impact can be exponentially greater in India where public spending on health care is among the lowest in the world.