5th March – COVID-19

A COVID-19 response that is quick off the blocks

We are now facing the global spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus disease, with confirmed cases being identified in new countries on an almost daily basis.

What should we do?

India needs to be ready to mount a coordinated, coherent and sustained response.

  1. Getting the system ready –
  • Preparedness allows a health system to take proactive steps to mitigate or lessen the adverse impacts of an outbreak and to be in control without being overwhelmed. COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to test our systems and build resilience for the future.
  • It makes sense to do extensive screening, testing of all suspected cases and do contact tracing to prevent its spread into the wider community. But once an outbreak takes hold with sustained community-wide local transmission, the response should change from containment to mitigation so that the health system does not crumble.
  • It is important to ensure the involvement of both public and private sectors but also allopathic and non-allopathic medical systems, different departments such as police, fire, transportation, tourism, food supplies and other sectors.

2. Effective communication and coordination –

  • The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), currently designed to be set up in situations of large natural calamities, should be leveraged; it should coordinate across ministries and departments.
  • It should set up a dedicated web portal which includes a dashboard with key indicators, current case definitions, guidelines, risk communication materials and micro plans.
  • Transparency and fact-based information are hugely important as in moments of crisis, rumours and unsubstantiated claims can rapidly spread.
  • Utilising social media, media outlets effectively is also crucial. An epidemic of fear and misinformation can be damaging, stigmatising and corrosive to public interest.

3. Behavioural approach –

  • Large-scale behaviour change will be the cornerstone of a successful response.
  • It is worthwhile to remember that Ebola was brought under control by people who within a short time changed their long-held traditional burial practices and routines such as hand shaking, and not just by people in hazmat suits treating patients in temporary hospitals.
  • Though media shows people in hazmats more than people washing hands properly, it is the latter which plays an equal if not bigger role.

4. Preventing the primary healthcare workers –

  • A response plan should ensure that critical personnel (deemed irreplaceable) across sectors such as health, energy, defence, and food supply are identified and protected.
  • Priority also needs to be given to protecting front-line health workers, intensive care unit nursing staff, doctors including specialists such as intensivists, pulmonologists, etc.
  • The government should draft and publish clinical guidelines for triage, admission, discharge, ventilator support and other components, as applicable for various levels of the health system.

5. Mobilisation of resources –

  • Resources from other departments and general public, financial, in kind and personnel, need to be pooled and mobilised.
  • Preparedness is neither the sole domain nor the prerogative of government; all institutions, entities, firms both private and public and even individuals and households should make contingency and advance preparedness plans.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTION – Discuss how India can prepare to tackle a pandemic such as COVID-19 by utilising the current outbreak as an opportunity for preparation for the future.

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