Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare joined a virtual meeting of the Regional Director of WHO for South East Asia (SEA) Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh with Ministers for Health of the member states of the region. The meet was focused on maintaining essential health services and public health programmes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the outset, Mr. Roderico Ofrin (WHO) informed the ministers of the logistic support provided by WHO during COVID-19 and Sunil Bahl (WHO) apprised them of WHO’s programme for vaccine development and policy of allocation.
Dr Harsh Vardhan spoke about India’s tryst with COVID-19. He highlighted how “India had been preparing for the pandemic as soon as China informed WHO on 7th January”. Earlier viral outbreaks like the Avian Influenza, H1N1pdm09 Influenza, Zika and Nipah had provided institutional memory in “designing containment and management strategies using ‘whole of government’ approach”, he added. “India’s proactive and graded multi-level institutional response to COVID made it possible to have very low cases per million and deaths per million in spite of having a high population density and low fractional GDP spending and per capita doctor and hospital bed availability as compared to other developed countries”, he pointed out.
On the efficacy of the Lockdown, Dr. Harsh Vardhan expanded how it was “effective in slowing down the rate of growth of cases and gave the government time to augment the health infrastructure and testing facilities.” He added that “From one lab in January, India has 1370 labs today. Indians anywhere can access a lab within 3 hours travel time.33 of the 36 States and UTs exceed WHO’s recommendation of testing 140 people per million per day.” He also stated that the Containment Strategy has been successful in that 50% of the cases are from three States and 32% of the rest are from seven States. The spread of the virus thus has been contained.
He also stated that DRDO built make-shift hospitals capable of housing 1000 patients, with an additional 100 ICU beds were built in a record ten days. In addition, the other activities included training of the trainers at national level; States, District & facilities-level training; web-based training on ventilator management by AIIMS, New Delhi; mock drill for Corona preparedness in all hospitals across country; telemedicine facilities at AIIMS Delhi helped identify the root causes of mortality and made high-impact interventions possible that significantly curbed the mortality rate from 3.33% (18th June) to 2.11% (3rd August).
Dr. Harsh Vardhan spoke of the telemedicine practice guidelines published on March 25, 2020 highlighting how India leveraged technology to provide essential medical services during COVID-19; first of its kind web-based National Teleconsultation Service online OPD service (Patient to Doctor ) in the world which has completed 71,865 consultations so far completed; tele-medicine services (Practitioner to Practitioner consultation) in 150,000 Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs); the online training platform iGOT for medical practitioners and skill enhancement of all levels of frontline workers etc; mobile apps such as Aarogya-Setu and ITIHAS which have aided in checking the spread of infection without obstructing medical care.
The Union Health Minister stated that as a strategy, India divided its facilities into COVID and Non-COVID facilities. This helped in better management of the severe from the moderate and mild categories of patients, and ensured that the hospital facilities were un-burdened to ensuring effective treatment of the hospitalised cases. This has helped to keep India Case Fatality rate below the global average. Today it has touched 2.07%, he stated.
Dr Harsh Vardhan also mentioned about the other measures taken by India. He stated that the best practices from the States/UTs were uploaded for cross-learning on the National Health Innovation Portal (NHInP). Mentioning some best practices, he stated that the States like Chhattisgarh continued with immunization services even within the containment & buffer zones and delivered essential medicines of Hypertensive and Diabetes patients to homes. Telangana tagged every pregnant woman with an ambulance to ensure safe and institutional delivery. Thalassemic and Dialysis patients were also transported using ambulances for availing timely services. Odisha & West Bengal separated infrastructure and HR for COVID and non-COVID essential health services, thereby ensuring their optimum utilisation. Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand filled all the vacancies of all critical HR in public healthcare system during the pandemic. States such as Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala provided non-essential health services through tele-consultation using eSanjeevaniOPD facility.