Humanitarian crisis & Covid-19 spread due to govt's wrong dependence on bureaucrats: Report

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 5/30/2020 11:20:48 PM

NEW DELHI, May 30: Sixteen top epidemiologists and scientists have accused the Modi government of causing humanitarian crisis and spread of COVID-19 because it wrongly depended on the primary advice by clinicians and academic epidemiologists with limited field training and overwhelmingly relied on general administrative bureaucrats.
"The incoherent and often rapidly shifting strategies and policies, especially at the national level, are more a reflection of 'afterthought' and 'catching up' phenomenon on part of the policy makers rather than a well thought cogent strategy with an epidemiologic basis. The engagement with expert technocrats in the areas of epidemiology, public health, preventive medicine and social scientists was limited," they said in a report on behalf of the Joint COVID-19 task force constituted by the Indian Public Health Association and Indian Association of Epidemiologists.
They asserted that "most COVID-19 infected persons are mostly without symptoms. Even if symptomatic, the symptoms are mild and not life threatening. Majority of the patients do not require hospitalisation and can be treated at domiciliary level with a modified "enforced social distancing" imposed on the households." They gave a call to sit up, take notice and bring about fundamental changes in life style and also in the health policy.
"Had the migrant persons been allowed to go home at the beginning of the epidemic when the disease spread was very low, the current situation could have been avoided. The returning migrants are now taking infection to each and every corner of the country, mostly to rural and peri-urban areas, in districts with relatively weak public health systems," they said in a detailed report.
The repudiated epidemiologists claimed it is unrealistic to expect that the pandemic can be eliminated at this stage since "community transmission is already well-established across large sections or sub-populations in the Country.
As public health academics, practitioners and researchers in India, the joint task forced has recommended a 11-point action plan, including constitution of a panel of inter-disciplinary public health and preventive health experts and social scientists at central, state and district levels to address both public health and humanitarian crises, free sharing of data in public domain, and constitution of working groups to provide real-time technical inputs to the government. It said the opaqueness maintained by the Government of India as well as state governments in the context of
data so far has been a serious impediment to independent research and appropriate response to the pandemic.
One of the major recommendations is to lift the nationwide lockdown and replace it with cluster-specific restrictions and laying reasonable milestones for control of the current phase of the pandemic in the country, taking into account possibility of the successive wave of cases. Some other recommendations are:
-- Promote social bonding measures to avoid social stigma as stigma and discrimination in COVID-19 associated with specific population is harmful since everyone in a group is specifically not at risk while stigma can also occur after a person is released from COVID-19 quarantine that requires pro-active government, media and local organisations to make people aware and treat them with empathy and respect;
-- Active surveillance in geographic and temporal clustering of cases to trace transmission foci, carried out by train epidemiologists from the local medical colleges and public health insstitutions;
-- Test, track and isolate with marked scaling up of diagnostic facilities, particularly in the states lagging behind;
-- Strengthen intensive care capacity while new symptomatic and even SARI cases be managed with Oxygen and other supportive measures;
-- Optimal PPE for frontline workers to instil confidence and alternate teams be identified to take care of attrition due to fatigue, exposure and quarantine; and
-- Resumption of all routine health services immediately as otherwise the human cost of disruption of these services, specially for terminally ill patients and with life threatening catastrophic health events will outweigh the deaths due to COVID-19;
-- Universal use of face mask (homemade and others), hand hygiene (washing with soap and water and hand sanitizers) and cough etiquette, should be adopted by all with special focus to high risk population;
-- Rapid scaling up of the public health and medical with an allocation of 5% to health expenditure at Centre and state levels.

 

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