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How Karnataka has eased the burden on health dept by deploying IAS officers in COVID-19 battle

While nine IAS officers have been appointed as nodal officers by chief secretary TM Vijay Bhaskar, the state has also drawn personnel from departments like labour and women and child development to address issues like welfare of migrants and those without food.

Written by Johnson T A | Bengaluru | Updated: April 6, 2020 1:33:54 pm
Karnataka CM Yediyurappa at a free milk distribution scheme for poor people in Bengaluru. (Express Photo)

With the coronavirus pandemic posing an unprecedented challenge in terms of preparedness, capacity building and implementation of strategies to counter the spread of the virus, the Karnataka government has deployed a big chunk of its IAS officers to ensure “meticulous implementation of plans”.

IAS officials in Karnataka have taken control of much of the strategy to counter the threat of the coronavirus, leaving the health department and its experts to focus upon core medical work and public health measures like treating patients, training health workers and conducting research and analysis.

“The appointment of the IAS officers as nodal officers to implement strategies has freed up the health department, comprising of doctors, public health experts, epidemiologists and statisticians, to focus on core health work like training people for labs, hospitals, setting up clinics and ensuring supply of safety equipment,” said a joint director in the health department.

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While nine IAS officers have been appointed as nodal officers by chief secretary TM Vijay Bhaskar, the state has also drawn personnel from departments like labour and women and child development to address issues like welfare of migrants and those without food.

With a state-level task force created by Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa failing to take off due to differences between Health Minister B Sriramulu and the Medical Education Minister, IAS officers are at the forefront of Covid-19 strategies. The task force is headed by Sriramulu and comprises of the medical education minister, the home minister and the higher education minister.

“On the advice of the CM to tackle the situation arising out of Covid-19, IAS officers are being given additional responsibilities to be taken up immediately and to work under the directions of the additional chief secretary and health secretary,” state chief secretary TM Vijay Bhaskar said in an order dated March 21.

“While there is a state-level task force or Cabinet sub-committee headed by the health minister, a number of IAS officers have also been appointed as nodal officers for better co-ordination of efforts and meticulous implementation of plans. For example, we have officers in charge of contingency plans, co-ordination with districts, logistics,” said additional chief secretary and health secretary Jawaid Akhtar to whom the nodal officers report.

The only medical officer among the 10 nodal officers reporting to the health secretary is Dr CN Manjunath, the former director of the state-run Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, who is in charge of facilitating expansion of the laboratory network for conducting tests.

When the first few coronavirus cases were detected in Karnataka in early March, it was officials from the health department’s state surveillance and communicable diseases unit who were at the forefront of isolating people, tracing contacts and ensuring that contacts do not violate their quarantine.

“There was a lot of work as the cases began increasing and we were not able to keep up with all the aspects. The creation of nodal officers has helped reduce the pressure that was building on the health department to deliver on all fronts,” said a doctor in the surveillance unit.

The overall task of community surveillance, tracing of contacts, quarantine and home isolation has now been given to IAS officer and doctor Arundhati Chandrashekhar, who works with a team of over 20 people in co-coordinating with surveillance officers from the health department. This has allowed the state to deploy doctors in the health department to focus on specific clusters of patients and their contacts to prevent spread of the disease.

IAS officer Gaurav Gupta has been put in charge of procurement and production of ventilators, testing kits, PPE etc; Meena Nagaraj is in charge of surveillance at all entry points into the state; PC Jaffer is in charge of capacity building; Gangaram Baderiya has been tasked with preparing exclusive Covid-19 hospitals; T K Anil Kumar is in charge of contingency plans; Dr E V Ramana Reddy is in charge of co-operation with IT companies; C Shikha is in charge of communication strategies and Munish Moudgil is in charge of the use of technology to stop spread of Covid-19.

Everyday IAS officers hold dozens of meetings through video conferencing with district magistrates and health officers spread across 27 state districts to ensure that policies passed down from ICMR and central health authorities are implemented.

A separate expert committee, headed by the state director of health and family welfare Dr Om Prakash Patil, has also been constituted to report to the health commissioner and secretary on the medical aspects of containing the virus.

Karnataka has so far registered 151 coronavirus cases, which includes four deaths and 12 discharged patients. While the state at one time had the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, the growth of infection has contracted in recent days on account of measures taken by the state – including strict social distancing norms. The state is currently at ninth place in terms of the COVID-19 infections in the country.

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