While the world is gasping for breath, due to the novel coronavirus, the prevailing scenario has again brought into relevance about Marx and Engel’s take on capitalism, health, and the healthcare system. According to Marx and Engels, capitalism is a system of conflicting social relations that is based on a fundamental social antagonism. This happens between the few who have capital, and the ones who have only their labor power to sell.
The prevailing health emergency throughout the world and the failure of the healthcare systems have again projected the vicious cycle of poverty, illness, capitalism. Slums or closed living quarters of the workers are the by-products of the labor that is needed in a capitalist economy. Engels pointed out that these living areas in which the workers are crowded together are the breeding places of all those epidemics which from time to time have struck humanity.
Slum and closed living quarters for the proletariat are the direct by-products of capitalism.
Cholera, typhoid fever, smallpox, and other ravaging diseases spread their germs in the air and the water of the working class living spaces. This explains why the poor and the migrant workers all over the world including India are facing unimaginable difficulties and becoming victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. The surge of the second wave of Covid-19 has only made things worse.
Marx and Engels’ historical materialism throws light on the contemporary health, healthcare, and healthcare systems. The current systems of healthcare, have been produced through struggle and conflict and continued to change with the emergence of new forces of production or forms of exchange, new technologies, the opening or closing of markets, and shifts in world trading patterns. According to Marxian-inspired sociologists, the current healthcare industry is a product of the marketplace of the capitalist. They see the healthcare system as a site for commercial transactions.
To them the current healthcare system is a marketplace – and a site for the production and consumption of capitalist commodities. As privatization of the healthcare systems in India began with the LPG reforms, the healthcare sector was polarized between the classes of affordable and unaffordable, which made healthcare systems very expensive in the private institutions run by the capitalist. This snowballed into issues like increased out-of-pocket expenditure in the private healthcare systems, leading to health payment-induced poverty. This is evidenced from many cases that are reported during the pandemic that there are differential benefits as well as price systems between the public and private healthcare systems.
The country has witnessed the inadequacy of the capitalist model and realized the limitations of healthcare industry privatization in solving the public health crisis faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the time when the medical and health industry is facing the problem of market failure. Although privatized healthcare systems help in improving efficiency and growth, it reduces the countries’ long-term preparedness for dealing with pandemics such Covid. In general, public hospitals are responsible for providing public healthcare services and medical welfare.
In the outbreak of large-scale infectious diseases, the local public departments can integrate medical resources through macro-control, coordination, and intervention to better control the virus. The public healthcare sector must be encouraged to continue and increase its efforts to safeguard the welfare of underprivileged and low-income beneficiary populations while pursuing a privatization policy.
Their role is irreplaceable in coping with the public health crisis and provide the basic needs of healthcare services to the general public. The Pandemic has exposed the inadequacy of private healthcare and the importance of spending and strengthening public healthcare. In the long term; this crisis must be a learning lesson for the governments to re-evaluate and drastically improve upon the funding in public healthcare, infrastructure, and capacity building of the human resources.