New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has come under heavy criticism from three major medical professional associations for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, even as the country readies itself for ‘unlock phase 1‘.
A joint statement issued by the Indian Public Health Association, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine, and Indian Association of Epidemiologists on 25 May says that community transmission has already set-in.
“It is unrealistic to expect that Covid-19 pandemic can be eliminated at this stage given that community transmission is already well-established across large sections or sub-populations in the country,” the health experts have said.
Some of the notable signatories of the statement include Dr Shashi Kant from the Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and Dr D.C.S Reddy, former professor at Banaras Hindu University. While Reddy chairs the Indian Council of Medical Research’s group on epidemiology and surveillance for Covid-19 that was constituted in April, Kant is a member of it.
Calling India’s lockdown “draconian”, the experts have also said that India has been adversely impacted by a “catastrophic double burden”.
“The lockdown cannot be enforced indefinitely as the mortality attributable to the lockdown itself (primarily because of total shutdown of routine health services and livelihood disruption of nearly the entire bottom half of the Indian population) may overtake lives saved due to lockdown mediated slowing of Covid-19 progression,” it adds.
‘Reliance on bureaucrats, not epidemiologists’
The health experts have claimed that the government is relying overwhelmingly on “general administrative bureaucrats” and not experts in epidemiology or preventive medicine.
“Had the Government of India consulted epidemiologists who had better grasp of disease transmission dynamics compared to modelers, it would have perhaps been better served,” the statement reads.
It further says: “From the limited information available in the public domain, it seems that the government was primarily advised by clinicians and academic epidemiologists with limited field training and skills.
“Policy makers apparently relied overwhelmingly on general administrative bureaucrats. The engagement with expert technocrats in the areas of epidemiology, public health, preventive medicine and social scientists was limited.”
The experts have also said had the migrant workers been allowed to go home at the beginning of the epidemic, when the disease spread was slow, things would have been different today.
“The incoherent and often rapidly shifting strategies and policies especially at the national level are more a reflection of ‘afterthought’ and ‘catching up’ phenomenon on part of the policy makers rather than a well thought cogent strategy with an epidemiologic basis.”
11-point action plan
The experts have recommended an 11-point action plan to be implemented by the Modi government.
They have said that all Covid-19-related data, including test results, should be made public and accessible by all.
“The opaqueness maintained by the Government of India as well as state governments in the context of data so far has been a serious impediment to independent research and appropriate response to the pandemic,” the statement says.
They have also recommended that the nationwide lockdown must be lifted and instead be replaced with “cluster specified restrictions”.
Other suggestions include resumption of all the routine health services, a marked scaling up of diagnostic facilities, and optimal PPE kit availability for frontline workers.