During some of the worst periods of the Covid pandemic over the last 18 months, a handful of government officials, despite stiff resistance from local administrators, stood out for their unconventional methods in tackling the virus effectively. These efforts soon became a template for the rest of the nation.
Rohini Sindhuri, an IAS officer who has seen 11 transfers in 11 years as a bureaucrat, was posted as district commissioner of Mysuru at the peak of the first wave in September 2020.
For Sindhuri, 37, it was a huge challenge to tackle a disease that didn’t have an immediate cure or standard procedures for containment, as every nation was grappling with the fear of the unknown virus.
She realised that one of the ways to control the spread of the virus was through prompt medical intervention for the local citizens. That is how the Covid Mitra concept was born, which reached out to the community for a pre-emptive and timely medical check-up to contain Covid-19. The district administration rolled out Covid Mitra centres in every primary health centre in Mysuru. Here, patients were triaged and underwent counselling sessions and medical tests. Only those needing hospitalisation were admitted, which helped free up beds.
This, in turn, resulted in one of the lowest death rates in Mysuru during the first wave. During Sindhuri’s tenure, the district also had the distinction of achieving the highest percentage of Covid-19 vaccination in the State.
Another of her initiatives was the ‘Panch Sutra’, which involved remote monitoring and treatment of patients for the first five days from the onset of symptoms. This helped in shifting focus from testing to triage — classifying patients according to the priority of need and the relevant place of treatment. Once these initiatives became successful, the Karnataka Government decided to duplicate them across districts.
Sindhuri also issued a directive mandating an RT-PCR test for anyone visiting or returning from Mysuru. This was prompted by the fact that many people would return to their villages for Ugadi, one of the main festivals in Karnataka. The virus had thus far not spread to the rural areas. Without careful monitoring, Mysuru’s floating population posed a considerable risk of spreading the virus to the villages.
The officer did have her detractors, though, and the directive was hastily withdrawn by the State, which claimed it was unworkable. Medical experts, however, hailed it as extremely effective, forcing the government to reintroduce it a fortnight later.
All these measures ensured that Mysuru district, which had the highest positivity rate of 41.32 per cent and active cases of about 16,000, had one of the lowest case fatality ratios (CFR) — deaths among confirmed cases). The administration also used the IEC (information, education and communication) strategy to counter vaccine hesitancy, leading to complete vaccination of all people aged 45-plus.
It was also able to successfully raise ₹22 crore through CSR (corporate social responsibility), add more medical equipment such as oxygenated and ICU beds, besides launching a helpline number and door-to-door surveys across the district.
Sindhuri, reputed to be a sincere officer, has been in the eye of a storm on several occasions in the past, due to her uncompromising stand on core administrative issues. As the Deputy Commissioner of Hassan District, on July 14, 2017, she took on the local sand mafia by cracking down on illegal mining on the Hemavathi riverbed. She has been credited with moving Hassan to the top slot in the SSLC (Standard X) examination results in 2019, with a pass percentage of 89.33, from the 31st position and 69.58 pass percentage in 2017. Hassan also bagged the top slot in imparting quality education, which was mapped on parameters like pass percentage, average marks and the number of students who secured first class.
The young officer’s local measures to tackle the virus could hold learnings for administrators as they grapple with the constantly evolving virus and its variants, which continue to cast a shadow of uncertainty across the world.