During his address to the nation on March 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the people to acknowledge the tireless and selfless work of the medical and para-medical staff in the country and either clap or bang plates at 5 pm on Sunday, during the ‘Janata curfew’. Sounds good, but what will Modi and his government do to ensure that the lives of the medical and para-medical staff members are protected? He did not divulge any information. The very next day, the Modi government approved a whopping sum of Rs 20,000 crore for the redevelopment of the Central Vista in Delhi.
A Lancet report says that victims of over 3,300 COVID-19 cases were the health workers in China, of which 22 died. In Italy, 20% of the healthcare workers responding to the COVID-19 spread have been infected and at least 13 have died. India is and will be no exception to this trend. The healthcare workers are the most vulnerable group as they would be in direct contact with the COVID-19 patients.
In this context, how is the government preparing to protect the health workers? Firstly, it needs to make items like masks, gloves, hand sanitisers, washing soap, alcohol gel, phenyl, surgical gloves, etc. available—along with the crucial equipment like ventilators. In the present situation, the Health Department requires nearly 7.25 lakh body overalls, 60 lakh N95 masks, and over 1 crore 3-ply masks. However, there is a massive shortage of these items. In an epidemic like this, it is the Health Ministry’s responsibility to provide these items and equipment. The sluggish approach of the ministry in purchasing these gears can prove extremely detrimental to the country.
If we look at the national capital, North Delhi Municipal Corporation runs six major hospitals and 60 polyclinics. The major hospitals that are run by the corporation include Hindu Rao Hospital, RBTB Hospital at Kingsway Camp, Maharishi Valmiki Infectious Disease Hospital, Girdhari Lal Hospital and Kasturba Hospital. An indent placed on March 6, 2020 by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation for bare minimum gears to cope with the ongoing crisis, exhibits how precarious the condition of the existing health centres is. The indent lists five items of which only one item was supplied.
Take a look:
The situation is distressing and worrisome. A doctor working at the Hindu Rao Hospital said that they had made their own hand sanitisers; but after some videos busting the myth of their efficacy, their use was discontinued.
Many health workers said that the thermal scanners are not working properly—with some ridiculously displaying temperature as low as 91 degree F. The staff also pointed to the rampant corruption in the system and said there is no accountability at any level to ensure that quality equipment is purchased. They also talked about the lackadaisical attitude of the civic and hospital administration who have given no clear-cut directions for the purchase of the health gears.
This is not an isolated example. PM Modi, instead of asking people to bang the plates as an acknowledgement of the work of the health workers, should have made a more determined effort to ensure their safety and protection. Or is noise of banging the plates attempts at drowning the failure of the government?