Image: Diptendu Dutta/AFP
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare does not maintain data on Covid-19 deaths of medical personnel, said Minister of State Ashwini Kumar Choubey a mere day after the Centre’s declaration that it does not have a record of migrant labourer deaths.
On September 16, Rajya Sabha Members of Parliament (MP) Ravi Prakash Verma and Binoy Viswam asked Choubey for the number of doctors, nurses, ASHA workers and other health care staff who had either been affected by or died due to coronavirus.
To this the Minister of State had given the disconcerting reply of, “Health is a State subject. Such data is not maintained at Central level by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. However, database of those seeking relief under the “Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Insurance Package” is maintained at national level.”
This is the second time that the Centre failed to account for Covid-19-caused deaths in India.
Meanwhile, the insurance scheme only recorded 155 deaths of medical personnel from all over India. Thus, it recognises deaths of only those people whose families sought relief under the government insurance scheme. Accordingly, the data showed that as many as 21 medical personnel had died in Maharashtra with a majority of 12 deaths classified in “Others” category. Maharashtra’s official death count was closely followed by West Bengal and Gujarat with 14 deaths each. Uttar Pradesh recorded eight doctor deaths – highest number in the given data – while Telangana recorded as many as three ASHA worker deaths. Gujarat had the highest nurse, midwife, and health worker deaths at six persons.
When asked to explain why the Centre had failed to contain the spread of the disease despite early inputs from WHO and other countries, The Minister of State said that India had successfully “blunted” the spread of Covid-19 by imposing country-wide lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic. He said that the decision of lockdown had prevented roughly 14–29 lakh cases and 37–78 thousand deaths.
“India has been able to limit its cases and deaths per million to 3,328 cases per million and 55 deaths per million population respectively, which is one of the lowest in the world as compared to similarly affected countries,” said Choubey.
Regarding the Government mechanism to check concealing/ under reporting of Covid-19 deaths, he said that the Centre has advised states as per the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) circulated guidelines for appropriate recording of Covid-19 deaths in India.
Furthermore, he said that the Centre did not allocate funds to states for testing and treatment.
“Initially the testing equipment and kits were procured by ICMR and provided to the states. Now that the diagnostic kits and equipment are available states have been advised to procure the same,” he said.
MP Viswam also enquired about complaints from Covid-19 designated hospitals regarding protecting gear for medical staff. He also asked about government measures to protect frontline healthcare workers from the disease.
While Choubey did not talk about complaints, he said that the Centre gave the states 3.05 crore N-95 masks and 1.2 Crore PPE kits. He said hospitals and frontline workers were given guidelines on March 24 for rational use of PPEs that followed a risk-based approach and recommended what kind of PPE should be used in high and low risk areas. Moreover, states were supported with 9.81 crore tablets of Hydroxychloroquine and 28,476 ventilators.
“The healthcare workers were provided with hydroxychloroquine for prophylaxis and prevention of infection. N-95 masks and triple / double ply masks were brought under price control. Export of PPEs, N 95 masks, triple/ double ply medical masks, goggles and visors were banned till such time we were self-reliant,” he said.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare provided guidelines on Infection Prevention and Control practices as well as training programmes to states.
“States were asked to constitute Infection Prevention and Control committees. Hospitals were also to identify a nodal officer who will monitor the healthcare workers and review their exposure status. High risk exposures are placed under quarantine for 7 days. Based on their exposure/clinical profile such doctors, nursing officers and other health workers, a decision shall be taken by the Nodal Officer/Head of the Department (or his appointed Sub-committee) for further period of one week,” he said.
Lastly, he said a package of Rs 15000 crores (USD 2 Billion) under ‘India Covid-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package’ was approved by the Cabinet April 22.
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