• Victor Mohan

India fully prepared to tackle Covid 19, health minster Harsh Vardhan

As of the 8th of March, 2020, India has recorded 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Against this background, union health minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan has asserted that India is ready and prepared to take on this global health challenge. Here are four strategy directions being employed to prepare the country:

1. Medical Laboratories:

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, along with the department of health research has commissioned 52 testing labs across the country. This is being cited as a crucial strategy in early detection of the virus among suspected patients. Besides these centres, 57 additional laboratories have been onboarded to aid with sample collection for Covid-19. Samples in the form of swabs and other viral transport media will then be transported to the nearest testing laboratory.

52 laboratories have been commissioned by the ICMR (Source: PTI)

This system of laboratories has tested 4,308 samples from 3,404 individuals as on March 6, 2020. This includes 1,308 samples from 654 Indians (two samples each) evacuated from the epicentre of the epidemic, Wuhan.

2. Border Control:

The Government of India has placed travel restriction on other countries besides China, namely: Japan, South Korea and Iran. The latest advisory states: "All regular (sticker) Visa/eVisa [including Visa-on-Arrival for Japan and South Korea] granted to Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan nationals and issued on or before 03.03.2020 and who have not yet entered India, stand suspended with immediate effect".

All regular (sticker) Visa/eVisa [including Visa-on-Arrival for Japan and South Korea] granted to Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan nationals and issued on or before 03.03.2020 and who have not yet entered India, stand suspended with immediate effect.

Besides travel restrictions the government has partnered with the ICMR to do testing of samples for neighbouring countries including Bhutan, Afghanistan, China, Iran and Maldives. Further, a team of scientists along with lab equipment worth upwards of ₹10 crore have been dispatched to Iran to enable Iranians to set up a lab there. These initiatives are part of an ‘active preparedness’ role that Dr. Vardhan has urged the country to take on.

3. Contact Tracing:

Given the unclear data on the incubation period and infectivity of the novel Coronavirus Covid-19, especially in January, the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) has been called into action. The system essentially provides protocols and strategies to trace contacts of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country. In this regard, 81 contacts were traced for the first positive case detected in Kerala, 71 for the second and 162 for the third. Similarly, 88 contacts for the Telangana patient and 46 contacts for the Delhi patients have been identified and engaged.

The health minister interacts with students evacuated from Wuhan (Source: PTI)

4. Training:

Mass trainings of doctors and allied health staff at nodal centres including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have been scheduled on the 6thand 8th of March. Besides training the health workers on proper personal protection techniques, these sessions are also designed to help health workers better function as sources of credible information. Simultaneously states are being called on to set up and operate an adequate number of isolation centres in preparation of a possible epidemic.

5. Health Communication:

It is prudent to be concerned but not to panic.

Amidst the current epidemic of misinformation in the era of social media effective health communication has been touted to be a vital strategy to prevent unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of the situation. This includes debunking claims made by Indian politicians such as the Assamese MLA Suman Haripriya who is said to have suggested people to use cow urine and dung to treat the deadly virus. This also includes introducing punitive measures to tackle price gouging on certain essentials such as Personal Protective Equipment including masks, a move that is mirrored by Corporate giants like Amazon which was recently in the news for having delisted over 1 million products for price gouging. Finally the minister urged news outlets to leverage their reach and help people access accurate and relevant information about Covid-19. According to Dr. Vardhan, it is prudent to be concerned but not to panic.

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