By J.V. Lakshmana Rao
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems closely fitting into Lord Krishna’s definition of “karma yogi.” He has not reveled on the glory for his successful handling of the first phase of Covid-19 pandemic nor does he faze about the severe criticism leveled against him on the the severity during the second phase of the disease.
The second phase of pandemic has become a major task to handle for the Modi government, which has already been facing multiple problems like militancy and terrorist attacks on the western border, Chinese excesses on the northern border, infiltration of illegal immigrants on the north-eastern border, crippling farmers’ agitation and several “cooked up” allegations from power hungry politicians and political parties.
Exercising tremendous patience and composure in all the situations, he has been doing his work for what he is expected of. He has taught Indians and the people of the world, during the first phase of the pandemic, several simple ways to tackle it. But the critics’ memory is too short. India was the first country to enforce social distancing, the use of masks, and the need for personal protection equipment (PPE). India has been the first country to manufacture masks and PPE kits on a mass scale and supply to many countries. He set guidelines to face the pandemic, which worked well and he has set an example for the world.
After the first phase of pandemic was successfully controlled, many people in Indian had begun to feel free, fearless, relaxed, stopped wearing masks, uncared about social distancing, and had even refused vaccination, believing its rumored side-effects. Believing myths and misconceptions, many people were reluctant to take vaccine. Thus, thousands of vaccine doses went unused or wasted, while several countries eagerly waited to receive them. India magnanimously supplied vaccine to some 80 thankful countries.
People’s negligence, government’s complacency, uncontrolled farmers’ agitation, vigorous political campaigns in five states and the Kumbh Mela gatherings in the pilgrim towns along the Ganga River had resulted in the second phase of virulent pandemic in India. Both people and the government have been unprepared and caught unawares to face such a severe health emergency.
The mutated strain of the virus of the second phase has been either slow or unresponsive to the medical protocols that were successfully followed in treating the patients during the first phase. Meanwhile the number of cases and deaths mounted as a results of shortage of life-saving medications, ventilators and oxygen stock, making people panic.
During the peak of the country’s first wave of infections last year, the confirmed new cases had reached 100,000 a day, placing significant pressure on health care facilities. During the second phase, in just a matter of weeks, the number of new confirmed cases has started rising each day shooting up from 15,510 on March 1 to 352,991 on April 26. The total number of infections has risen above 17 million, as the official death toll reached about 200,000, though the figure could be much higher.
As the cases have spiked, the hospitals have started feeling pressure for beds, ICUs, ventilators, vital medical supplies and even, the much needed life-supportive medical oxygen. Some states found it difficult to face the situation and started blaming the Center and the Prime Minister, though the public health is the primary subject of the states.
Responding quickly to the dire situation, as a first step, Modi ordered suspension of the use of oxygen for the industrial purposes, and diverted such saved oxygen to hospitals for treating patients. Several countries have airlifted containers of oxygen to India, and the Indian railways have started running special oxygen tanker express trains to help hospitals spread all over the country.
India, known as the pharmacy of the world, could not cope with the unexpected rise in demand for the vaccine. Consequently, the Center has relaxed rules to import of vaccines made by foreign pharmacies – directly to the states and even to government and private hospitals. The scarcity of oxygen, ventilators, drugs, and vaccines is also the creation of some unscrupulous people, who have indulged in hoarding and selling them in black market the oxygen cylinders, life-saving drugs and even the vaccine.
Much to the relief of several Indian states, the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, which developed Covid-19 vaccine, — Covaxin – launched its direct supply to them from May 1. It had also begun direct supply to private hospitals in the country in 25 cities.
The cities include Hyderabad, Delhi Mumbai, Bangaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Mysuru, Guwahati, Calicut, Coimbatore, Ernakulum, Goa, Guntur, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Jalgaon, Kanpur, Kochi, Mohali, Nellore, Nizamabad, Raipur, Shimoga, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam.
The Modi government threw open vaccination to all citizens over the age of 18 years, and Bharat Biotech has fixed a price of Rs. 400 a dose for states and Rs 1,200 a dose for private hospitals.
Since most of the dedicated government hospitals and PHCs in cities and towns are not equipped sufficiently to treat the pandemic, people in cities, towns and villages started rushing to private and corporate hospitals which have jacked up charges exorbitantly running into lakhs of rupees. Thousands of poor patients, who could not afford such high charges, have become victims of the Covid-19.
Though there are specific government guidelines regulating the tariffs for treating patients, there are complaints against some greedy corporate hospitals, which have not been adhering to them. Consequently some hospitals also have been stripped off their licenses.
A report coming from Hyderabad says all is not well with the Telangana government-run dedicated Covid-19 Gandhi Hospital, and the century-old Osmania Hospital, where there has been heavy rush of patients, many of whom are turned back because of non-availability beds.
In a surprise visit on May 18 by Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kishan Reddy found a huge unused library block in the Gandhi Hospital, which is lying vacant would be converted within a week into a 300-bed facility with oxygen support.
He also said that 50 ventilators had been lying unused at Warangal’s Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital as the hospital did not have technicians. He said that the Center was supplying medicines to treat black fungus and all oxygen plants granted by the Center should be made operational immediately.
He inspected two newly-installed pressure swing adsorption (PSA) oxygen plants, which generate 1,000 liters of oxygen per minute each at Gandhi Hospital. He inspected the ICU wards and inquired about treatment being administered by patients admitted there.
Interacting with the district magistrates and the chief ministers, the Prime Minister on May 18, stressed the critical role of vaccination against Covid-19 and assured that efforts are being made to streamline its supply to states on a 15-day schedule of the inoculation program to enable scheduling of the shots.
He explained the government’s efforts to make vaccine supplies more predictable as states would often deal with 3-6 days of stocks, leading to uncertainty over how many people could be inoculated.
He said that experts expect vaccine supplies would improve in June and would flow much more freely in July. He asserted that district authorities would have a crucial role in preventing wastage of vaccine and their efforts would help “optimum utilization” of the vaccine.
He added, “This way states will know in each district how much vaccine will be available for how many people and enable the administration to plan accordingly.”
As the spread of pandemic is now getting flattened and is showing signs of downtrend, the Prime Minister appealed to district officials to make relief material easily available to rural population.
What more one can expect Narendra Modi to visualize, plan and issue orders through his virtual meetings by constantly inspiring the medical fraternity, executives, and people across the country to bravely and confidently confront the pandemic?
Is it not conspicuously clear that the opposing forces within and outside elements are only interested to make Modi unpopular?
By J.V. Lakshmana Rao