KANCHA ILAIAH SHEPHERD | 21 APRIL, 2020
Whatever it is, you are born from my stomach
In the Telugu film ‘George Reddy’ the hero’s mother sings:
Ninnaite Kanna nenu
Ye theeram nee katha cherenu
Garvanga unna gani
Kanna naa bhayam naadi
Yentaina kanna kadupu idi
(I gave birth to you. But I cannot foresee your future. I do not know which shore your story would reach. Though I am proud of you, as a mother my fear is mine. Whatever it is, you are born from my stomach)
There are many mothers whose daughters and sons are living in America and Europe. Their agony is that of George Reddy’s mother just before his fateful death in an attack by his enemies. To them coronavirus appears likewise to be a deadly enemy of their children living in those countries.
Theirs is kanna kadupu, the stomach of their children’s birth, hence every minute’s agony for their safety haunts them.
In one family I know very well, a mother’s daughter with her two children and husband lives in America, and her two sons and their families live in England. She lives with same fears. She is in her sixties, living with her 70 plus year old chronic heart ailment ridden husband in Hyderabad.
She glues herself to Telugu TV channels when news of America and England keeps flashing. She is more scared of the American situation than of England. Whenever Trump is seen on TV she shouts, ‘This fellow cannot save people, he only knows how to make dabbu nunchi dabbu (money out of money)! People would have been safer if Obama were president.’
Her statement, that he ‘who makes money out of money’cannot save people from coronavirus, is a statement about the Trump type of capitalists and businessmen and their intention and capacity to fight Covid-19.
It is not the America of Trump but the whole capitalist healthcare system which is facing the crisis of a lifetime.
Corona is a virus born in a capitalist wet animal market inside semi-socialist China. But it was carried to every part of the world by capitalists travelling in aircrafts within a very short time. Although socialist countries have fought the virus with an organised state and socialised health and medical care, the most privatised capitalist countries are collapsing in the face of this invisible enemy’s attack.
America, Italy and Spain have the most privatised healthcare systems in the world and they are suffering the most.
Trump tore down ‘Obamacare’ which itself lacked public provision, and he pushed the insurance market into the hands of private companies that do not cover the corona type of disease.
Private hospitals the world over ran out of individual patient demand as this mass murderous corona landed in the world.
Only Britain seems to have a better public healthcare system, and its government has promised 80 per cent of the salaries to those who were dismissed from their jobs because of the lockdown. No other capitalist country did that.
But the British prime minister Boris Johnson, who himself contracted the virus, seems to have mismanaged his corona containment policy.
India which has a big chain of private hospitals, with a very weak public health system, is struggling with the pandemic. India now needs to think about nationalising all private hospitals like Spain did.
Capitalist medical care survives on profits from individual patients’ money, by treating those who suffer from slow killer diseases. They are not welfarists, but cure-and-profit healthcare capitalists.
Their expertise and technological abilities are doubtless. They are mostly out of business now as corona shakes up the health system of all countries.
All states, whether capitalist or socialist or dictatorial, must take up the responsibility of testing, and treating the victims of corona. But barring a few countries the state system of healthcare is either weak or does not exist at all.
In India except in Kerala government provided healthcare is very weak. They are not in a position to keep corona patients, at least not in neatly maintained rooms.
For the first time the Indian rich, who otherwise get treated in well maintained private hospitals, are forced to live in the government’s not so well maintained hospitals as corona patients, and some of them are, it is reported, running away.
Corona made them taste what a government hospital is, like the poorest of the poor. Corona has come as a leveller in a highly unequal world, more so in India.
In a country like the US where the best medical equipment and good doctors are available they are all in the private sector. Obamacare was an effort to make a healthcare system available to the poor, also in this private sector, at the expense of the state. But Trump dismantled it, the largest state insurance programme in the world.
India with 1.3 billion people is going through a trauma. Its Nehruvian state health system was slowly allowed to shift into private hands.
The post-1990 drive of disinvestment in every sector, and the rise of private hospitals with a dream of the Euro-American model of private healthcare, in an India of 55 per cent poor and unorganised labouring masses, finds itself oxygenless now. What is needed now in the times of corona is oxygen to every Indian, poor or rich.
Though the very poorly maintained state system with a net of All India Medical Institutes is struggling to cope with the present crisis, almost all commercial hospitals remain shut during the lockdown.
This should not have been allowed.
Except in Kerala, which has its own model of a democratic socialist state-run health care system connecting villages to towns to cities, nowhere is a proper chain available.
Doctors are like soldiers in wartime, in times of a pandemic like corona. But the private-sector doctors and nurses became like ordinary citizens sitting at home, having made their money during normal times.
The need for declaring doctors’ work as a national essential service by calling all of them into this emergency duty is a must. They did not become doctors only for themselves, while the poorly paid state doctors and nurses are struggling.
When the nation claps for doctors it claps for those who are serving their patients, not for those sitting at home.
Like the Indian army and police, no doctor can say I am not bound by national duty. Capitalist medicare, at least, has to become nationalist medicare in such times, leave alone socialist medicare of the Cuba type.
Capitalism gives profit and riches to rich. Money makes money in capitalism. If hospitals which save life become money-makers, a corona (crown) comes along to teach a different lesson.
For many parents whose children were sent to America for studies, jobs and settlement, corona told them that dream is now dreadful. And if it strikes in such homes, though one hopes it will not, on both sides the death becomes horrible. They cannot even cry around each other.
It is now global wartime. The Second World War was no match for this one.
In the post-corona world, many will have to think that the whole vision of life on this planet must change.
Consume in a socialist way, like Karl Marx told us, and live together without dividing rich and poor.
Every country has to rethink about life in the future, starting with common health care, where every human being can get oxygen when they need it.
Cover image Jean-Michel Basquiat