The world has undergone humongous changes since 11 March 2020 when Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. While the pandemic continues to rage today in its different avatars, its newer strains and mutants are being reported at regular intervals from different corners of the world. Humanity has accordingly been trying to discover suitable modus vivendi and modus operandi to live with this lethal virus. From the First Wave to the Second Wave and on the way to a purportedly incoming Third Wave, the world has often found itself all at sea in trying to find ways to tackle and control an intractable virus which has continuously been mutating.
While medical science and health administrators have their shoulders continuously to the wheel to bring about a creditable regime for its surveillance, tracking, testing and treatment, there still remains a lot which needs to be done before humanity can be said to be safe from this chimeral virus. Some of us who have been involved and associated with sundry aspects of Covid management since the beginning definitely know how we were often at our wits’ end trying to deal with Covid-19 while very little was known about the disease and its treatment protocols were still evolving.
We had learnt words like ‘Quarantine’ only lexicographically or had read about the phenomenon sketchily at different periods of history when humanity was called upon to deal with pestilences like the plague and Spanish Flu. However, none of us knew how to actually effect or put the same in place. ‘Quarantine’ was such a reviled and dreaded word at the beginning of Covid that most would shudder to ever think of going inside an established ‘Quarantine Centre’ or even to allow it coming up somewhere in the vicinity of our neighbourhood.
People resisting the drive to set up such ‘Quarantine Centres’, ‘Isolation Centres’ or ‘Dedicated Covid Facilities’ ranged from the most illiterate and uneducated in the slums to the most educated and well-placed people, who thought that setting up of such a facility would somehow jeopardise their life or that of their near and dear ones. As such it was a real herculean task to find and convince people to work and serve inside such Covid facilities, notwithstanding the promise of provisioning them with all necessary personal protection equipment (PPEs) and higher wages.
The Covid protocols for disposal of bio-medical waste (BMWs) have been so rigorous that it was a huge challenge to find ways to dispose the massive amounts of BMWs which were being generated, or to ensure proper sanitation services in the Covid facilities. Often, they needed to be led by example to convince them to serve patients in a Covid facility with due precautions. Same was the experience when health administrators were grappling with the need to ramp up health infrastructures across the length and breadth of this country.
This was no mean task as creating newer hospital beds or CCU/HDU facilities required and involved emergent civil works or procurement of equipment, logistics or hiring of qualified human resources. At the fastest of speed, the facility creation still required some gestation time. But Governments and administrations always found ways to relax rules and norms to expedite such works. While there were many regular hospitals which were converted into dedicated Covid facilities, there were many greenfield facilities which were set up to provide treatment against a disease which was still unknown and where the suggested line of treatment was still evolving.
There was often some resistance from within and without the medical fraternity for converting a regular facility for Covid treatment on one or the other pretext. Still, the spirit of humanity triumphed as the predominant majority in every instance was positively forthcoming to go the extra mile for saving and safeguarding the lives of fellow human beings. While the same was successfully being clinched and put in place, nosocomial services did suffer in some parts of the country in the beginning. This happened because of intrinsic fears of contracting the disease or losing one’s life.
Non-Covid health services across the world have been a huge casualty as a consequence of Covid-19 getting disproportionate attention. It is suggested that umpteen non-Covid surgeries have been postponed for fear of an unknown virus. Studies suggest that a good number of people have lost their lives in many countries because of non-availability of timely medical attention while the world has been fixated on Covid management. India as a country has seen unprecedented coordination and cooperation from across sectors and governmental structures with a dominant section of its medical fraternity and health administrators coming together to provide the muchneeded infrastructure and services at a short notice.
Notwithstanding the financial, logistical and infrastructural constraints, the country saw innovative and creative responses to dealing with different aspects of Covid management including transportation, quarantining, testing and treatment of the tens of thousands of migrant workers who returned to different states from across the country. The non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, corporate houses and groups of citizens under suitable guidance from the Government have come forward to put together infrastructure and other requisite logistics including community isolation centres and oxygen parlours by pooling their resources for better Covid management.
Different e-Governance initiatives, technological interventions, customised call centres for different health-related and telemedicine services have definitely gone a long way in providing the much-needed medical and psychological counselling to the teeming millions who either could not come to the health centres or who were anxious to clarify their Covid-related doubts. This not only reduced pressure on our health facilities, but also ensured efficient and optimal use of available human resources. In fact, the occasional Covid bed scarcity which was experienced in certain parts of the country was often not because of the actual dearth of bed, but because of the unnecessary occupation of hospital beds including CCUs/ HDUs because of the morbid fear of the well-heeled asymptomatic and mild patients.
Such patients never needed hospitalisation and could have very well have stayed home but ended up occupying hospital beds due to their panic. The scarcity also arose because some of the vested interests (read vultures who feed and flourish on dead) started dealing in these beds and were known to indulge in black-marketing private and public hospital beds. The world has also seen unparalleled international cooperation in forging a common response to tackle Covid-19 while there have been countries who have tried to fish in troubled waters to establish their hegemony in the international pecking order.
India, on its part, has tried its best to reach out to the weaker members of the comity of nations to provide them succour including vaccines and necessary drugs to deal with the virus while also receiving reciprocal assistance from many countries during its time of need. So, by the time the world was faced with the Second Wave of Covid-19 with newer and more contagious variants surfacing, we were relatively better prepared to respond to the virus with many effective vaccines having been discovered to tame the virus. While the pace of vaccination and the quality of Covid-19 response in some parts of the country leave much to be desired, still the disease definitely has brought out the best in many of us. West Bengal, as a state, has been at the vanguard of Covid fight with well-placed infrastructure and systems for Covid management, thereby having least of dislocations while providing suitable healthcare services to its population.
(To be Concluded)
(The writer is an IAS officer, presently working as the Mission Director, National Health Mission and Secretary in the Health and Family Welfare Department, Government of West Bengal. The views are personal and not those of the government)