With India in the midst of battling a ferocious second COVID-19 wave with its health infrastructure bursting at its seams and with the coronavirus reaching the rural population, the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) has listed out seven demands and asked the Union Government to face up to what has gone wrong so far.
JSA has organised a National Day of Action against COVID-19 on Monday, with healthcare professions and activists engaged in discussions to find solutions to problems facing us all.
In a statement, the organisation said that the "Central government has been evading responsibility for the current crisis, refusing to accept that this wave could have been anticipated, and much more effective preparations could have been made. Instead of this, national ruling party leaders have been fueling the epidemic through promotion of religious and political mass events," it added.
JSA also listed out seven demands that the government should act urgently upon, mentioning that governments should provide free treatment and beds for COVID-19 patients. "Governments must ensure that all patients who seek admission for moderate or severe COVID in a public hospital must be provided free care, and if a bed is not available, then it is the duty of the government to shift the patient to another public or private hospital and ensure free
care," it said, adding that governments should "augment" the existing quota of beds and ensure Oxygen supply to health facilities. "More beds in larger, especially corporate private hospitals should be taken over by State governments to provide free care," it added.
The organisation mentioned that governments must ensure testing of all symptomatic COVID-19 patients near their homes or at them and get reports within a day. "Testing capacity and organization of testing services requires to be expanded and improved," it added, mentioning that to further quell the spread of COVID-19, contact tracing and quarantining should be ensured.
It also critiqued the government's method of responding to criticism and ensuring COVID appropriate behavious. "For actively promoting COVID-19 appropriate behaviours, Governments must admit that authoritarian approaches which create stigma and denial have failed. They must revamp public communication strategies, and desist from shaming, victim blaming and coercion," it added.
The JSA also demanded universal, free vaccination to vulnerable people at a time when booking a vaccine slot on a smartphone is not available to everyone. "The Central Government must
immediately adopt nationally uniform pricing of COVID vaccines for government procurement, should take urgent steps to increase supply of vaccines through expanded procurement, and must accept the primary responsibility of purchasing and making available adequate vaccine supplies to all states, enabling universal free vaccination," it said. The organisation added that state governments needed to increase vaccinationn centres and reach out to their most vulnerable in order to tide over vaccine hesitancy.
"Governments must cap fees for those seeking testing or treatment in private hospitals, with medical and financial audit to ensure compliance with Standard Treatment Guidelines. Hospitals empanelled under publicly funded health insurance schemes must provide free healthcare to all those eligible under these schemes," it added, mentioning that "irrational" prescriptions issued for medicines and methods like Favipiravir, Convalescent Plasma, Remdesivir, Tocilizumab needed regulation and that there was a need for public awareness campaigns.
Given the fact that the Centre had gone after activists during the lockdown last year, the JSA advised against such a move. "Governments must ensure that human rights are protected and rights to dissent and free speech are not compromised in the COVID situation. Reliable data on mortality, morbidity and testing is required for public information, effective pandemic management, and better understanding of the problem," it noted, stressing on the need for data and partnership with civil society and communities at all levels of governance with health experts in tow to enable a better response.
With health workers and doctors already over a year into resisting a growing pandemic, it also mentioned that their rights be protected, their safety ensured and that they be provided "fair terms and conditions of employment", including to those working on a contractual basis.
Reports of dead bodies floating in rivers are now doing the rounds and the JSA has asked the government to ensure that cremation spaces are made available to spare the victims' families "added trauma". "Workers at cremation spaces, often from Dalit / lower caste communities, face risk and must be provided masks, sanitisers and additional honorarium," it added.
To enable such moves, the JSA said that a "massive increase" in public spending on health was needed with " improved manufacture and logistics regarding medical oxygen and medicines, and increasing vaccine supply and ensuring its equitable distribution through a range of appropriate public policies."
India recorded a single-day rise of 3,66,161 COVID-19 cases on Monday, which pushed its tally of confirmed cases to 2,26,62,575. The death toll due to the viral disease climbed to 2,46,116 with 3,754 more people succumbing to it.
With PTI inputs