New Delhi: The Government of India has decided to seek $2.5 million (Rs 18.31 crore approximately) in technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank to update the ‘Covid war room’ in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, currently run by seven private organisations.
It has also asked the ADB to help select other organisations with technical expertise that can help in analysis and data visualisation on Covid.
In response to an RTI application filed by ThePrint, the health ministry said: “The additional support amounting to $2.5M under RETA… Ministry of Health has proposed utilising the same for technical assistance for Covid management functions. ADB has been requested to assist the ministry and select entities having technical expertise who can assign the work at a short notice.”
RETA refers to the ADB’s regional technical assistance programme, which is available to certain eligible countries. But in this case, the money is supposed to be specifically used for Covid-related work, senior officials in the ministry said.
“There is an ADB grant of $2.5 million available to us that can be used for any Covid-related work. A decision has been taken to upgrade the ‘war room’ and for the purpose of developing better capacity for data analysis,” a senior health ministry official told ThePrint.
The Covid ‘war room’
The Covid ‘war room’ — on the first floor of Nirman Bhawan, which houses the ministry — is the nerve centre of the analysis and projections being done on the daily, weekly and monthly status of the pandemic in the country. It has access to state, district and facility-level data from across the country.
It is currently being run by seven private companies — Cisco Systems India Pvt Ltd, KPMG Advisory Services Pvt Ltd, Red Swan Labs, Urban Clap Technologies India Pvt Ltd, Boston Consulting Group, Primus Partners Pvt Ltd, and UChicago.
Among other things, health ministry officials said, there are plans to procure a data visualisation software for use in the ‘war room’. “There is a software called Tableau that costs around Rs 2 crore. We are planning to procure that. The necessary approvals have been obtained,” said a second health ministry official.
NHA billed ministry Rs 16 cr for Covid helpline
At the start of the pandemic, the health ministry had started a helpline to guide people through their doubts about the disease and the logistics of testing etc., including who does or does not need to test. The helpline number was 011-23978046, and there was also a toll free call centre on 1075.
The helplines were managed by the National Health Authority, a fully autonomous body under the health ministry, which is the implementing agency for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), the secondary and tertiary care arm of Ayushman Bharat.
The NHA, according to the RTI reply, billed the health ministry Rs 16,77,35,774 for managing the Covid helplines, including automatic voice-enabled calling facilities, call centre operations that were managed through NHA’s existing call centre (that usually manages the PMJAY helpline), and also call centre operations that were managed by service providers of the Unique Identification Authority of India.