Bharat grossly unprepared to tackle Covid-19

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on April 03, 2020 Published on April 02, 2020

Jitendra Singh, Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions   -  PTI

Officials, responding to Government survey, highlight poor health infrastructure even as cases spike

Insufficient number of ventilators, testing kits and laboratories are the common complaints across States, as revealed by feedback received from 266 collectors and IAS officers from 410 districts across 34 States in a pan-India survey conducted by the Centre on the preparedness to tackle the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).

The survey was conducted over three working days beginning March 25 by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances.

Releasing the findings, Jitendra Singh, Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, said that the survey will serve as a benchmark for policy-makers at the national and State levels.

As on Thursday evening, India has recorded 2,069 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Of the total cases, 156 have recovered while 56 have died. With cases doubling in less than five days now, and nearly 20 per cent of them requiring hospitalisation, India is preparing for a massive case load of Covid-19 patients over the next month.

Responding to the survey, an official from Panna district in Madhya Pradesh said that the health infrastructure is poor in the district with no private hospitals or doctors; the entire burden is, thus, on the government health infrastructure and only one ventilator is available.

As on Thursday, India has been able to put together 16,651 ventilators dedicated for Covid-19 patients, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

While Madhya Pradesh has been able to arrange a little over 1,000 ventilators across all districts, most are likely to be concentrated in big towns. The non-availability of adequate ventilators in district and sub-district hospitals has ben highlighted as an area of concern.

Another official from Dibang Valley in Arunchal Pradesh said that the testing centre is located at Dibrugarh, which is 379 km away, hence sample collection and testing take considerable time.

In districts like Dima Hasao, Nalbari and Udalgudi in Assam, the survey revealed that there is no intensive care unit or ventilators in government hospitals.

According to the Health Ministry official, as on April 2, there are only close to 31,900 ICU beds available for Covid-19 patients across the country. Assam has only 447 ICU beds and 197 ventilators.

Only 40 per cent of the officials said that their district and sub-district hospitals were adequately prepared.

The survey also revealed another are of concern: Inadequate availability of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), whichs include masks, gloves, hazmat suits, in district and sub-district hospitals.

While India has 22 lakh health workers, the Health Ministry official said the country has a total of 4.12 lakh PPEs and close to 15 lakh masks, according to data available until April 2. Also, health workers need to change PPE every eight hours.

Most officials, who responded to the survey, sought the setting up of more testing centres and raising the capability of all district and sub-district hospitals. States are also demanding ambulances with advanced and basic life support systems, more ventilators and ICU bed infrastructure.

Most officials also wanted standard operating procedures and guidelines for inter-State movement of people, issues relating to procurement, logistics and supply chain for medical equipment.

Also, they suggested more awareness campaigns on Covid-19 targeting slums in urban areas and backward villages in all the districts besides economic support to the poor, migrant workers, farmers, MSMEs and middle class.

Published on April 02, 2020

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