As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe, healthcare systems and economies in 185 countries are faced with unprecedented challenges never seen before. This public health emergency has till date affected close to three million people worldwide and about 29,000 in India.
In most countries, including India, the public is largely turning to Governments and public health systems for solutions. Given the public nature of the disease, authorities are at the forefront taking the lead, but is our public health infrastructure capable of handling a pandemic of this nature alone? Is it not a time to forge a collaborative effort with other sectors to manage the varied challenges?
Over the last decade, private sector has stepped in to fill vital gaps in combating the double burden of communicable and noncommunicable diseases. As an industry, the sector has consistently complemented the government’s efforts vis-à-vis investments in infrastructure and employment creation.
It has also helped in bringing cutting-edge technology, equipment and global clinical protocols to India. The presence of world-class hospitals and skilled medical professionals has strengthened India’s reputation for those seeking quality clinical care at affordable costs, in compliance with international quality standards.
The last two months have highlighted the fact that the healthcare sector in India, both public and private, need to make joint efforts to educate, screen, test people and treat the rising cases of infections. Today, with testing centres, treatment and isolation facilities being set up at across the country, the soldiers at the frontline of this war are doctors, nurses, paramedics, critical care staff, lab technicians and frontline healthcare workers.
In support of government initiatives to tackle the current situation, several hospitals have scaled up services to cater to the increasing number of patients, adhering to Government guidelines. They are also upscaling infrastructure, investing in manpower, equipment, consumables and other resources.
Defying the general perception of private healthcare being unaffordable, many have introduced schemes and initiatives to cater to both patients and the public.
For instance, Apollo hospitals under its multi-pronged strategy, ‘Apollo Project Kavach’ has reached out to over three million people using multiple platforms to create awareness about the epidemic and preventive measures. With drive-in screening centres set up across 50 locations, over 50,000 people have been screened for symptoms of Covid-19 and advised precautionary measures.
The hospital chain has also released an AI-based risk stratification digital tool and over 13 million people have taken this assessment to know their risk level of contracting COVID-19. Apollo has also created 1000 isolation rooms with medical cover through innovative partnerships with OYO, Lemon Tree, SBI and Hindustan Lever Limited.
On the other hand, the second largest chain, Fortis Healthcare has donated INR 5.90 crores to The Prime Minister National Relief Fund and has ramped up operations towards COVID19 management, in alignment with government directives. With isolation wards at 28 hospitals across the country, 350 beds have been earmarked to treat COVID19 patients.
Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi – A Fortis Network Hospital has been designated as dedicated COVID 19 facility. COVID 19 patients are being treated successfully at its hospitals in Gurugram, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Amritsar. Fortis is also collaborating with peers to operate a dedicated COVID19 facility in Manesar near Gurugram, Haryana.
Dedicated Fever clinics have been set up across its network hospitals for safety of the patients, staff and visitors. Telemedicine, video consults, trainings for police personnel and helplines are a few other initiatives by the hospital chain. Fortis has also deployed robots to speed up screening at its facility in Bengaluru, and for indoor disinfection in its Gurugram hospital. SRL Diagnostics, a Fortis subsidiary, has been chosen by the ICMR to conduct COVID-19 testing in Mumbai and Gurugram.
Manipal Hospitals has been treating COVID19 patients at Bangalore, Mangalore as well as in the university town of Manipal. It has set up an exclusive COVID Hospital in Udupi. It is also working with the Govt in running E-ICUs, fever clinics and virtual consults in many districts in Karnataka.
Its centres at Goa, Salem, Vijayawada, Jaipur, and Delhi are all first response facilities, and the ones at Delhi, Jaipur and Vijayawada have been dealing with critical patients requiring advanced care. On the other hand, P.D. Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre (PDHNH has taken several proactive measures for the safety of its doctors, staff and patients such as practicing social distancing at the hospital, appropriate OPD management, screening and triaging of patients before entry into the premises.
For COVID 19 patients, dedicated isolation wards for confirmed, suspect cases and dedicated isolation ICUs have been set up, away from regular in-patient and OPD areas. The hospital has also been providing free/concessional treatment to poor and needy patients.
The Government must be lauded for its strong leadership and early, effective action on COVID19, which is showing results. These difficult times are also witness to the collaborative spirt of several private healthcare providers.
Further, a larger call of duty lies in focusing on normalising the healthcare delivery services beyond COVID19 as a range of healthcare interventions have been deferred due to the lockdown. This will require a spirit of true partnership between government, private sector and citizens which has become stronger during the current times.