Today, the country is faced with a crisis of epic proportions. With several new mutant variants and a resurgence of infections, the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread at a rapid pace, affecting lives, livelihoods and the economy.
With a national healthcare emergency of such magnitude, it is critical to take all possible measures at the earliest to arrest further spread of the crisis. A disaster response strategy with impactful measures in collaboration with all stakeholders can be developed, with a strong focus on saving lives and livelihoods.
The industry can be a powerful player in this strategy in multiple ways. The CII has provided inputs to the government on various dimensions of the response measures, including supply of critical care requirements, vaccinations and strengthening medical manpower resources.
To address the shortage of oxygen availability, we suggest direct vessels be used to import liquid oxygen and unloaded fast for the containers to reach key destinations. Support equipment needs to be imported including ISO containers, cylinders for liquid oxygen, personal oxygen concentrators for home treatment and PSA and VSA containers for hospitals.
Military oxygen generators, which are lightweight, modular and can be used for about 50 bedded hospitals, can also be imported. The industry is being encouraged to use their CSR funds in creating this pool.
For expanding domestic manufacturing, 20 leading manufacturers could be identified and provided support for importing some of the required components to reduce set-up time to about eight weeks. The CII has formed a task force to work with Central and state governments to raise oxygen supply through capacity enhancement and imports.
Tata group, Reliance Industries Ltd, JSW Group, Adani group, ITC Ltd, and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, amongst others, are helping hospitals with emergency medical supplies. The industry is diverting its industrial oxygen production to manufacture medical oxygen.
The challenge is the lack of appropriate containers to transport the gas, which is a hazardous material. Making transport arrangements for oxygen supplies linking to nearby factories is critical using multi-modal transport.
The requirements of healthcare workers must be ramped up to address the magnitude of the crisis we are faced with. Medical manpower such as retired medical personnel, doctors and nurses may be requested to join in the effort.
Nursing and medical students who have finished GNM/BSC training and are awaiting exams can be roped in. Medical specialists, PG seat aspiring doctors and specialists can be included. NRIs working abroad as doctors and nurses can be encouraged to come back for a national cause for a brief period and also be available for digital consultations.
Vaccination and testing are yet another top priority for the country. The CII recommends the distribution of vaccination supplies to states according to well-defined criteria. As per experts, population size, exposure and vulnerability can be mapped to supply specific required quantities to the states.
There is a need to scale up RT-PCR testing to double the current daily numbers both in urban and rural India. The requirements for testing kits can be met through imports or ramping up domestic manufacturing, including Rapid Antigen Self Testing Kits for use at home.
Also, vacant educational institution premises or other unused areas can be used for creating community testing facilities at scale.
On the logistics and infrastructure front, the CII has suggested the deployment of the Armed Forces and central security personnel for temporary medical facilities, logistics, infrastructure and personnel. The government has now given emergency powers to the Armed Forces for setting up such facilities.
It is important that the healthcare and frontline workers, who have gone beyond the call of duty at great personal risk to take the crisis head on, feel protected. There is a need to strengthen security at hospitals for medical personnel and protect people and property, which can be done by deploying military and paramilitary forces.
A central asset mapping control team should be created for monitoring supply of various essential critical care items as well as predicting possible occurrences of shortages and pre-emptively enhancing states’ capacities. Shortages may be made known to the industry for helping reach resources to the needy geographies as the wave moves across the country.
There is a need to strengthen logistics to reach supplies to the affected districts. Transportation must also be put in place for supplying the required medical drugs and oxygen on a continuous basis to districts where requirements are high, including Railways and road corridors, with minimal state border delays. With all of us working together on a war footing, India is certain to win over the second COVID wave.
The article first appeared in The New Indian Express on 06 May 2021.