New Delhi: To help the country’s civil administration tackle the surge in Covid cases in the second wave of the pandemic, temporary hospitals have been set up across the country by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in the past few weeks.
Five such hospitals were established to begin with, in the immediate aftermath of the surge in Covid cases.
This included a 750-bed Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Covid hospital in Delhi, a 900-bed Dhanvantari hospital in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad, a 500-bed ESI hospital in Patna, a 750-bed Pandit Rajan Mishra hospital in Varanasi, and a 500-bed Atal Bihari Vajpayee hospital in Lucknow.
Of these, the Delhi hospital had been opened last year after the pandemic hit the country, but closed operations after cases dipped. It was revived after the country was hit by a second surge. Similarly the Patna facility had exited before, but the DRDO helped update it to deal with the second pandemic wave.
More such facilities are now being set up across the country, also to prepare for a possible third Covid wave.
But what has been the exact role of the DRDO in making these units operational?
While the DRDO is the executing body, top defence sources told ThePrint that the cost of construction of the hospitals and equipping them with the requisite medical infrastructure are being met from donations, state government funds and the PM CARES fund.
Staff for the hospitals are being drawn from among military doctors, as well as nursing and other staff from the three wings of the armed forces, who have been mobilised from all parts of the country.
‘In a supervising and managing role’
Defence sources said the DRDO’s primary role has been that of a project executing body, which has been issuing contracts to private firms for the construction of these hospitals. It has also been involved in urgent procurement of essential equipment and consumables for the hospitals, such as PPE kits.
“The DRDO has also been closely supervising and managing the work being done by private agencies engaged in the construction,” a defence official said.
The official added that most of the contracts for construction of these hospitals are “fabrication (construction) contracts” given out by the Chief Executive (Directorate of Civil Works & Estates) in DRDO.
The state governments are assisting the DRDO with infrastructure such as electricity and water connections and other necessary permissions in setting up these hospitals.
All the five DRDO hospitals are level three hospitals that offer complete facilities for the treatment of Covid patients, such as oxygen and ventilator support, and have been upgraded with more beds and other equipment in the weeks following the openings.
An Integrated Command and Control Centre has been set up to monitor admissions of patients in Varanasi and Lucknow.
Sources said the hospitals may continue operations even when the number of Covid cases decline.
In addition, more temporary hospitals are being set up by the DRDO to prepare for more Covid cases or a possible third wave of the pandemic.
While a 500-bed hospital in Haryana’s Panipat has been partially opened for Covid patients, the DRDO is also providing assistance in setting up a 1,200-bed hospital in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar, which will be funded by Tata Trusts.
More hospitals are planned to come up in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani and Rishikesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Guwahati in Assam, and Sikkim.
In addition to the temporary hospitals being facilitated by the DRDO, commanders of local military formations across the country have been also setting up other auxiliary medical facilities, in consultation with the state governments.
Additional infrastructure has also been put into place at several military hospitals, some of which are admitting Covid positive cases from the civilian population.
The state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is also setting up two Covid treatment facilities in UP’s Lucknow and Maharashtra’s Nashik. HAL has already constructed a facility for the Karnataka government in Bengaluru.
Though set up and run by the armed forces, defence sources said these facilities are being administered by local governments, and no preference is being given to patients from armed forces.
Military deploys its medical staff
All the hospitals set up by the DRDO are being manned by teams of military doctors and support staff, mobilised from across the country.
A total of 1,306 military medical staff have been deployed at the five hospitals that are currently operational. This includes doctors — general and specialists, nursing staff, and technical and support staff.
Of the five, the Dhanvantari hospital in Ahmedabad has the maximum number of military medical staff, a total of 371.
The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Covid hospital in New Delhi has 321 medical staff from the military, while the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Covid Hospital in Lucknow has 281. Pandit Rajan Mishra Covid facility in Varanasi has 160, while 173 medical staff from the military have been deployed at the ESI Hospital in Patna.
Additionally, the medical staff at each hospital also includes technical and support staff from the military.
Hospitals like Ahmedabad’s Dhanvantari also has civilian doctors attending to patients. Defence sources said 25 additional doctors and 39 paramedics from other agencies, such as ITBP and CAPFs, have also been deployed here.
Similarly, 99 additional doctors from other agencies are serving at the Delhi Covid facility set up by the DRDO.
Owing to the large number of medical staff from the military who have been deployed at these facilities, many military veterans have in the past few days questioned why it is being said that the DRDO or HAL have set up these hospitals, when they are being run by military doctors and staff.
Former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retd) too tweeted, “Let’s give credit where due!”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)