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There is a reason India turned to Armed Forces Medical Services when it came to coronavirus

Armed Forces Medical Services is the backbone of India’s defence. Other than AIIMS, no state-run medical facility can match what Indian military has managed in fight against coronavirus.

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When India needed its first quarantine facility for evacuees from Wuhan escaping the novel coronavirus pandemic the country turned, once again, towards its armed forces. But unlike earlier exigencies which involved militancy, communal strife, floods, other natural or man-made disasters, this time India faced a completely different threat. This time around, it wasn’t the local military formation that was tasked to provide aid or clean up the mess created by others. The fallback option wasn’t the usual general duty soldier, but rather a service that seldom comes in the limelight.

The Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) moved with a soldier’s efficiency to create a quarantine facility in Manesar near Delhi to house and observe hundreds of those evacuated from infected zones. Those quarantined included 119 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Another facility was set up simultaneously in Hindon, near Ghaziabad. These have looked after hundreds of cases, in batches, in facilities that were set up on a war footing, and sustained entirely from the military’s budget. Manesar facility is being run by about 60 trained medical personnel.

With roughly 7,000 specialists and super specialists spread across India, and over 130 hospitals, military medicine is an asset that rarely comes into limelight. So when the Manesar quarantine facility came up, or others like it, AFMS staff were not hogging the airwaves or providing sound bites, but quietly doing their duties. Supported by thousands of nursing officers and more than 40,000 paramedics, AFMS is the medical backbone on which the three services have survived over the years. And this is the backbone to which India turned to when a unique medical crisis threatened from across the borders. It has stood up to the test, just as it has always aspired to.

Also read: India locks down to prevent COVID-19 spread — here are restrictions imposed in your state

Incomparable skills and infrastructure

More such quarantine centres have been set up, in Jodhpur, Suratgarh, Jhansi, Devlali, Kolkata, Chennai and Gorakhpur. Jaisalmer military station is hosting more than a hundred evacuees from Iran, and more are expected. It is a testament to the efficiency of military medical personnel that the Army’s first novel coronavirus positive case was not someone on duty in a quarantine centre but in an establishment in Ladakh. The Ladakh Scouts soldier tested positive on account of contact with his father who recently returned from Iran.

“He is under the best possible medical care,” said Lt Gen. (retd) CS Narayanan, a veteran neurologist told me. The care, in this case, is under the supervision of 150 GH, a specialised military hospital in Leh. “150 GH has been handling every possible medical emergency in 14 Corps area,” added Gen Narayanan. 14 Corps is responsible for the entire Ladakh region, and over the years, medical cases have included everything between combat wounds, high altitude ailments and childbirth. This is only possible because of the unique dedication of military medical personnel, soldiers and yet saviours. In India, there is no state-run medical service like the AFMS.

“The expertise, technical or manpower, available in military hospitals is incomparable to anywhere in India,” said Gen. Narayanan with confidence. This confidence is not misplaced when the military medical network is seen in the larger context of India, its size, the myriad challenges, and the limited nature of health budgeting. Which is what makes military hospitals even more remarkable, for the larger specialised facilities are on par with the most expensive and posh private sector establishments. Other than the various AIIMS hospitals set up limitedly across India, there is no state-run medical service that can match what the military has managed. This, however, comes at a price.

Also read: Military’s isolation camps on standby, Army ready to deploy facilities to fight COVID-19

The cost

Even as India falls back upon AFMS to manage these facilities, provide all manpower and other requirements, this expenditure comes from the already allocated annual defence budget. Running the Manesar facility alone costs around Rs 3.5 lakh every day. There may be a reimbursement, but there might not be either. In which case, the armed forces will have to shed some requirement somewhere. There will not be, however, any whining, and the secret to this is a unique combination of the Act (Army, Navy or Air Force as the case may be) and the medical oath.

The author is a Congress leader and Editor-in-Chief of Defence & Security Alert. Views are personal.

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  1. if by all means of comments with respect to services in totality of armed forces are good, why does politicians say that duty of the Armed Forces is to protect borders, they should not ask for more emoulments when youth is uneducated.
    This hypocrisy…

  2. The military Fertanity is always first to serve the nation in all condition. We all citizens praise them and ready to stand with them always. The brave officers and men are always known for their dedication and discipline. We proud on our forces. May Allah bless them success in every endeavor.

  3. Yes and there is also Military Nursing Service. So silently work and keep working with the motto to serve with smile and do a expendable work who are silent heroes. Kudos to AFMS team.

  4. There is an issue with pay disparity of Military Nursing Officers also. Military Nurses are paid lesser than officers of other arms of the military. This was a dirty game played by no outsider but military doctors. If military doctors deserve DACP then military nurses atleast deserve pay equal to their peers in other arms. In house cleaning and introspection in required.

  5. At this juncture, PM Modi should be praised for his acts whatever he is doing for the shake of country men is selfless,on account of AFMS as a veteran I feel he should recalled all Doctors & paramedics to join the noble cause of AFMS to serve the nation voluntarily !

  6. The induction of AFMC staff to manage the pendamic situation is a wise thing. Besides all others Corps service to support AFMC ‘s involvement is laudable. At the same time it is also right time to think of the due amenities to be ensurered for them.

  7. Without wishing to debate whether the Military in India is the easiest scapegoat or wonder if my applause on 22 Mar went (at least to some) of those civilian doctors who might have ducked at the first sign of danger, I’ll confine to wondering whether to be more proud of the Military as an institution or ashamed at the overall capacity of mainstream India, the latter being the very inspiration of the military.

    • Their nothing to be ashamed military is built to fight thinking is over right now correct use of military is to use it wherever possible. After government is spending huge part of gdp on it.

  8. Instead of going ga ga everytime we (I am a veteran) do something efficiently and effectively, try and understand why we tick and then emulate our ways. 1st, we are not workers but professionals who are proud of our profession. 2nd, money doesn’t matter too much. There are a few black sheep, but not too common. 3rd, we are accountable for everything we do or we don’t. I am aware that 24X7 I am being watched by my subordinates, peers and superiors. And many more such points which need to listed and emulated.

  9. Since when have the AFMS become the backbone of the Army? I thought the fighting arms were given this honour in the past.

    • Shekhar Gupta, do you know Regimental Medical Officers (RMOs) are second to none in serving the country. They have also served for longer terms on Siachen than infantry officers. Officers and men of the Army Medical Corps have won many gallantry awards. They form the backbone of the Armed Forces Medical Services, which you have praised so much.

  10. It’s heartening to read the article written by a politician. But for the knowledge of the readers the same Armed Forces Doctors are not in receipt of Dynamic Assured Carrier Progression (DACP) which is given to all central government Doctors. This means Armed Forces Doctors are lowest paid in terms of grade pay from their other counterparts and are lowest in status when compared to others as Grade pay is the benchmark for their status. Despite the AFT verdict to provide them DACP, the same Government has gone to court that they cannot provide them DACP. So the author who is politician should bring this out for knowledge of public and stop their false Jingoism

    • The nation first or payment? For u payment… wherever you go Just beginning…this is the time to do hardwork and save the nation from pandemic… Jaihind
      I request u …don’t raise again like worst situation…and more… Soldiers in are selfless… Servent of our nation…

  11. I feel the efforts put UP by the AFMS to provide assistance to the govt at this difficult time are praiseworthy . Similarly the efforts of the engineers are also equally praiseworthy . However it is to remind to the author of the article and some of the people who have commented on this write up that the AFMS and Army Engineers are part of Defence Forces and not independent entities. How can you forget the IAF who were the first to fly to China to evacuate the stranded people . There are other troops deployed to oversee the Efficient functioning of the medical camps established to look after it . It is a joint show of defence forces. Therefore it would fe right to praise the defence forces if you feel so , as a whole, rather than a particular service.

  12. Thanks for bringing out the fact -Even as India falls back upon AFMS to manage these facilities, provide all manpower and other requirements, this expenditure comes from the already allocated annual defence budget. Running the Manesar facility alone costs around Rs 3.5 lakh every day. There may be a reimbursement, but there might not be either. In which case, the armed forces will have to shed some requirement somewhere.

    The Ex Servicemens’ Contributory Health Scheme facility was introduced in 2004 to take the load off the military hospitals. It involved setting up of polyclinics in all districts for out patient treatment and empanelled hospitals for in patient treatment with no cash payment . 15 years down the line, many empanelled hospitals had withdrawn from the scheme, due to the low cost at which the services are contracted and even more importantly for the huge back logs of bills that need to be paid. Also non availability of medicines in the polyclinics is more common and beyond acceptance levels. Under the circumstances veterans, closer to military facilities are being told to first use the military facility as per availability before availing the facility of empanelled hospitals.

    The only organisation without a trade union that can assert itself, the serving soldiers and the veterans are being treated like soiled tissue paper by the powers that be. Unfortunately it is these very powers that are the greatest, if not the only, beneficiaries of the sacrifices of its soldiers.

  13. While I join in complementing the AFMS for taking care of the affected personnel however the contribution of Army Corps of Engineers should not be lost sight of who are single handedly instrumental in putting the hospital infrastructure in place with speed and perfection true to their moto of ” Sarvatra”. The recent memories of their stupendous contributions are Railway bridge at Elphinstone Road, Mumbai, foot over bridge as replacement of newly constructed collapsed bridge for commonwealth games or preparation and maintenance of site for Pokhran 1 & 2.

  14. One can always rely on the Armed Forces to help out in aid to civil power during emergencies. They have been doing it from time immemorial.
    However the sad part is politicians use them to bail them out even when it is not part of their duties. Example the three railway over bridges constructed in Mumbai when the original ones collapsed. This is thanks to Nirmala Sitaraman the RM and Piyush Girl the Railway minister.
    Sitharaman also allowed the BJP to use the Army training ground in Secunderabad for a BJP political rally. She opened all Cantts so visitors to her house in Secunderabad could visit without security checks.

    • I agree. She has been able to achieve too too fast . The damage she has done to the defence forces will have far reaching effects ( bad and harmful) difficult to fathom even for her.

  15. Unfair comparison. AFMS is by far the better with minimal funding and exposure. As a country, we owe it to them to fund them, equip them and encourage them. Our Country as a whole was and is always quick to rely on and draw from the Armed Forces in times of trouble but have consistently failed to compensate them and appreciate them when the trouble is over. . . . .
    What a poor state for a country that boasts of 5000 years of grand culture. Let’s rise up to the needs of our Armed Forces. A person in uniform has signed-off his personal liberty in the Service of his country. We need to honour that.
    All cudos to our AF MS. .

  16. Jai hind Sir.My son is the Indian Army jag div.we visited Eastern Command Hospital as dependents for our knee Replacements both of us.We saw real efficiency in the entire machinery.We the parents of our son pay our regards to all the doctors who referred us to RR DELHI .AFMC is a pioneer of itself.

  17. I am a little taken aback on the comparison of AIIMS and AFMS.
    AIIMS are all stand alone medical services and have not contributed horizontally to healthcare in the country.
    AFMS as part of the Defence System has been providing preventive, curative and rehabilitative services to the Armed Forces – serving and veterans. It developed and maintains a well oiled referral system and personal health record. It also undertakes education of medical, nursing and paramedical personnel.
    It may be worthwhile to compare budgetary allocations per professional employed to assess efficiencies between the two institutions.

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