Chhattisgarh’s Health Minister and senior Congress leader T S Singh Deo spoke to Gargi Verma on the preparedness of the state and the fight against Covid-19 as well as the central government’s response to the crisis.
How has Chhattisgarh as a state prepared for the Covid-19 crisis?
We have identified separate Covid-19 facilities; 100 beds in each district. We have identified and are preparing 4,600 beds across the state in government facilities. We have also kept 500 beds at the RIMS, a private institute, which is at the back burner; we will take it up after the government facilities are full, and after that, we would go to the other private hospitals. We have also created 13 verticals with senior IAS officers heading them with a designated team. We are looking at a state command centre, medical equipment and supplies, quarantine facility and home isolation, mobility support and logistics, media, control room, contact tracing, community surveillance, Covid-19 hospital management and treatment, volunteer doctors and staff, testing, training and HR management, coordinating. These verticals are for focused work, as per demand, we can have more, we can merge some teams and have less.
This is the platform from where we are building our preparations. From here, the decisions go down to the ground. This is our planning team and we monitor each vertical’s position for each of our facilities. The 4,600 beds include 2,600 beds across districts, 200 beds in each medical college, 100 beds in Mana, 400 beds in Raipur medical college and 500 beds in AIIMS. The verticals are responsible for identifying what these facilities needs, how to procure them, and then how to provide them to the concerned places.
We had started the protocol wherein anyone who has come to the Raipur airport was given a questionnaire to fill about their travel history, irrespective of where they were coming from, whereas the national protocol suggested only people who have come from abroad had to be screened. We have also gotten details from the central government of whoever has travelled abroad from January 1.
Do you think the steps taken as of now to fight the pandemic in the state are enough?
We have been lucky so far, that our state has not had a single Covid-19 related death so far. But I genuinely feel that this cannot hold. More than 170 countries, most advance economies are on their knees. At such a time, it is not possible that the virus will leave us unaffected. We can’t hope for such a thing, or we will slip up somewhere.
In India, we were at 58 fatalities, out of 2032 affected patients, which is about 2.5% mortality. Though our percentage is almost half the global figure, it should not give us ground to be lax in any manner.
What are the biggest challenges in terms of diagnosing and then containment?
The PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kits and masks are in short supply for all states. It’s not that the material is available in the market and we are not procuring it. We have placed orders with HLL and Mylab and have not gotten enough supplies for them. We have only 4,600 PPE kits as of now and around 1,800 testing kits, which are not enough.
The other challenge was the testing criteria. The protocol from ICMR was very limited. Even the testing centres were less, we have been telling the government to let us increase the testing centres. Right now I am groping in the dark. I believe it is better to test and find out that the people are negative instead of having positive especially asymptomatic carriers, spreading the infection. That’s my biggest worry
Do you think the lack of equipment points to a bigger problem of being unprepared by the central government? How is the state of Chhattisgarh dealing with this?
The central government prepared in a limited manner. The protocol was built in a manner that the supplies were produced in the scale of limited testing and contained infection, and are now in short supply. Even though we have the infrastructure, the state government is paying for the kits, we should be allowed to test. Even the PPE kits, we are the ones paying for it. The government is just acting as a facilitator.
If you are being asked to test only a hundred people, you will have equipment for only 100 people. But we want to test a thousand people, but the supplies are not there. There’s a shortage in PPE kits, according to my knowledge number of ventilators nationally is too low. We have over 600 ventilators in the state available for us. If there is an explosion of the infection, if things take a turn for the worse then all facilities will be limited. For quarantining large numbers, we will have to turn to schools and Ashramshalas, which we have asked the District Collectors to identify. We are trying to procure PPEs and testing kits privately as well, by reaching out to the international community and by listening to the international experts. I have also consulted health ministers of other states including Kerala, and we are in touch and exchange notes. Combined brainstorming is going on to look for viable alternate measures in the time of crisis.
Do you agree with the approach of the central government? Where do you think we lacked and what are the steps taken by the central government now which you believe are in the right direction?
The central government took a protocol that I have not been in agreement with. The teams of experts deciding the protocol went in for testing only affected person. However, I believe that we need wider testing. If there was no spike, then the GOI would have been completely correct in not wasting public money and they would have contained the pandemic. But if the situation has been misread then I believe we have made a mistake, then we should have been more prepared.
I believe seeing the international scenario, we should have erred on the side of caution. I hope it doesn’t lead to a situation where mortality is high.
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