Crises management amidst the disaster — suggestions to the Government of India

The deadly second wave of coronavirus infections is devastating India, leaving millions of people infected and putting stress on the country’s already overtaxed health care system.

Officially, more than 17.9 million infections have been confirmed in April and more than 200,000 people have died, but experts say the actual figures are likely much higher. In the same period, India has been responsible for more than half of the world’s daily COVID-19 cases, setting a record-breaking pace of more than 300,000 a day.

Beyond these statistics and numbers it is the human life which is at stake. From oxygen to injection, to ICU beds, the common man is running from pillar to post just to collect medical resources for their loved ones. There is an overall sentiment that the government machinery has collapsed and it is the public who has to arrange for resources themselves. Therefore there seems to be a complete chaos across the cities and states. Many positive patients are crowding the medical facilities, oxygen plants, pharmacies to arrange for supplies and in this process are infecting many others around. There seems to be a total breakdown of the system.

This article is aimed at providing a different approach that the government can adopt to manage covid crises which has now turned into a disaster.

Firstly keeping in mind our learning from last year when the government itself had created containment zones to contain the spread of virus, developing on it further it is very important that every district must be divided into multiple containment zone where the administrative machinery must be deployed for each zone specifically. There shall be an appointment of a nodal officer for these zone who’s primary responsibility shall be to take stock of total number of positive families and get in touch with the hospital authorities to arrange for beds incase their symptoms worsen. More importantly this nodal officer should also be incharge of patient transportation to hospital following covid protocols. This shall be done for each zone of each district across the country as the number of cases are unprecedentedly high.

Simultaniously, the officers from statistical services should interpret the real time data along with a team of medical staff who can predict the amount of oxygen required in each zone if the oxygen saturation levels drop of the number of patients currently infected and those who could be infected in the near future. This data shall be shared with the nodal officer in real time who in-turn must make arrangements for worst case scenarios.

As the government has repeatedly said that we have sufficient oxygen for the patients and if we believe this to be true, the next problem that is leading to the crises is that the oxygen is scarcely distributed. For example talking about New Delhi, people are running to refill their oxygen cylinders from one corner of the city to another. Someone on social media leads them to an oxygen plant in Manesar which might or might not have oxygen today, then another lead would be in the northern part of the city say Rohini or Bawana, then to western part of the city in Mayapuri or Naraina. Overall the kin of the patient who might or might not be positive themselves would be running some 200 kms across the NCR region to fill their tanks. This is resulting in panic and chaos. Thus the solution to this problem is not the patients or their family must go around looking for oxygen but the nodal officer with the help of community volunteers must make arrangements of expected oxygen demand in their zone in advance. Here the role of government becomes vital. The government must ensure they provide vehicles for oxygen transportation. Be it a sophisticated oxygen tanker and if not that, then hire local tempos (small trucks) which can ferry those bulky oxygen cylinders across the zones.

Same approach must be adopted to arrange for other medical supplies and drugs particularly in use for the treatment of acute pneumonia and other respiratory ailments caused due to covid related complications.

Now the question arises how does the government gather the exact number of patients who currently need support and are positive. The government has time and again launched multiple apps and portals for its various schemes and programmes, thus it is not difficult to make a dedicated centralised portal where patients who are infected can register themselves and the number of family members who are in high risk zone living with them. This data must then be shared with the nodal officer who can make appropriate arrangements.

There is also an argument that we do not have adequate number of hospitals for the current spike in infections. For this the vacant infrastructure which is lying idle for past one year — including government schools, colleges, private educational institutions, banquet halls, community centres must be turned into corona wards and Covid appropriate behaviour must be followed with proper social distancing and isolation for those who are infected and in need of medical assistance. Currently the hospitals are crammed with covid patients who are sharing 1 bed and oxygen cylinder for survival. We need to get out of this situation at the earliest.

The government has taken the step in right direction that final year MBBS and post graduate medical students can come forward and deal with mild symptomatic patients on video conferencing under the guidance of their faculty members. Yes there is shortage of medical staff, but we have to make use of our available resources. Doctors from abroad have also volunteered to give their services to India. Right now is not the time to think about geopolitics, today is the time to act and we must enable everyone who is willing to help us to help.

A situation becomes a disaster only when the management is wrong. It is not the time to panic or abandon citizens to be on their own. It is time to get creative and organise our resources rationally. The above suggestions are just one way forward to manage the current humanitarian crises that we are seeing to be unfolding right in front of our eyes on day to day basis. The bureaucracy is working day and night but the public is not seeing results as the steps aren’t being taken on the ground level. We have to get creative and think of innovative solutions. There is no sure shot model which can help us deal with the crises. We have to continuously adapt and innovate and most importantly we have to start thinking.

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Shreyanshi Dubey

Shreyanshi Dubey

Political Economist and strategist— specialising in International Public Policy, Globalisation, and Sustainability.