The Health Ministry has confirmed that a 76-year-old elderly person from Karnataka has died of Covid-19 infection. This is the first case of death from this infection in the country. Most of the known cases of infection so far have been returned from abroad, especially Covid-19 affected countries. In a few cases there has been news of infection in the country itself, but so far there has not been a single case of the spread of this virus at the community level. But the question is, how long will we be able to survive?
China has finally handled the situation to a large extent after a full 100-day war, but the number of infected cases in Italy has exceeded 15,000. There were only three cases of Covid-19 infection till three weeks ago, but now with the death toll crossing 1,000, the challenges of doctors and health workers have increased. It describes the extent to which the health structure can break as soon as the infection spreads. In such a situation, a natural question arises as to how India has been avoiding it till now and what should be done next?
The initial threat to India was actually those travelers coming from Covid-19 affected countries. Therefore, work on identifying suspicious cases at airports started and they were screened, although there are reports that some passengers escaped from the process. Subsequently, the investigation of all the passengers coming from abroad was started. Such arrangements were also made at 12 major ports, but areas with relatively small ports and long coastline may be at risk, as there are many deficiencies in the region. The quarantine (isolation of patients or suspects) facility was provided by the country’s armed forces, especially to Indians brought from countries such as China and Iran. Clearly, most of the measures adopted so far have proved effective in India with a large population and large size.
Multilateralization of this epidemic declared by the World Health Organization is India’s next challenge. Hospitals in all states have been prepared to handle the situation, especially in cases where more than 10% of its cases may require intensive care. In such a situation, not only will there be a need to increase the capacity of government medical institutions, the help of private medical institutions will also be needed. States will also have to establish mutual coordination and share facilities under epidemic management measures. This situation will prove to be a greater challenge for the towns and rural areas, where the patient has to come to the nearby urban hospitals of the district headquarters. Supply of medical goods will also become mandatory in the event of increased infection, which is a challenging task as the global supply chain has been affected by the Covid-19 infection.
Similarly, mass training of health workers and equipping them with safety equipment is no less challenging. Since the number of patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney diseases in India is high, serious cases can be difficult to handle after infecting Covid-19. In districts where the health infrastructure is weak, the danger is high, as we are slowly moving towards another phase of transition.
The biggest task right now is to create a system of risk communication and counter-strategy through local health officials, which is based on evidence. India had faced Zika and Nipah virus well, but the present situation is completely different. Helpline numbers have been issued at the national, state and district levels, but there is a need to create a more decentralized information and feedback mechanism at the local level, which proves to be more effective. According to the World Health Organization, ‘risk communication’ means the exchange of information, advice and consultations between experts and health-risk people and providing accurate safety information.
There is no tried primary system in India, which will calm people’s fears and curiosities. The global advisory is that if someone suspects to be infected with Covid-19 or signs of it, he or she will first contact the health worker by telephone. If the health worker feels that the person needs to be investigated, he will give full information in this regard and will tell you where and how this investigation can be done. The thinking behind creating such a system is that the suspected patients did not come to the hospital without protective measures, because they can spread the infection on a large scale. No such strategy has been seen in itself.
There is also a need to work vigorously against false facts or preventive measures being circulated on social media. For example, the Food and Drug Administration in the US issued notices to companies whose products claimed to prevent or cure Covid-19 infection. But in his own state, social media statements also talk about the spread of infection from chicken and eggs, due to which the prices of chicken have fallen by 60% in many states.
India’s health department cannot fight the battle alone against Covid-19. Many countries have succeeded in stopping the epidemic. They have also succeeded in controlling the loss of life. India is a big country, so the government needs to work at every level to stop this epidemic. Some tough steps may need to be taken, but in doing so the government will also have to show sensitivity.