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Self-reliance is the way

India has to chart its own strategy, whether it is in planning a staged release from the lockdown or in developing domestic capacity for medical equipment.

There will be a need for scientific and economic cooperation with the rest of the world, but self-reliance is the rudder that must steer our ship as we sail through these rough seas.

Globalisation lies shredded as we read of French and German officials protesting at the Americans seizing shipments of masks that they had ordered from China, in what is being called “guerre des masques” (war of the masks).

Moving forward

  • The impact of a three-week lockdown on reducing infectivity cannot be gauged well till the third week because the virus has an incubation period that can extend up to 14 days, though the vast majority of cases clinically emerge by 11 days.
  •  The involvement of designated volunteers and community-based organisations can greatly enhance case detection, isolation, counselling, severity-based care and social support.
  • Potentially favourable factors for India are the younger age profile and a higher rural proportion of our population compared to China, Europe, the United States or other highly affected countries whose populations are older, urban and highly mobile.
  • However, this enjoins us to energetically protect the elderly and rural segments of our population.
  • Restricting urban to rural movement to essential goods and essential needs, for at least six weeks after the lockdown ends, will help.
  • The health, nutrition and financial security of the poor must be ensured.
  • Elderly persons too should observe social distancing and limit visits outside home for this period.
  • Essential economic activity can be resumed in stages.
  • We should quickly gear up our testing capacity to meet this mapping mandate.
  • Hotspots should be identified, based on numbers of self-referred symptomatic cases, persons identified on home visits and population survey results.

Focus on health services

  • We also need to make sure that our health-care system provides timely and competent care to all who need.
  • Primary health-care facilities, district hospitals, public and private tertiary care institutions have to gear up with equipment and augment human resources drawn both from trainees and retirees.
  • Considering the higher risk to older health-care providers, the first line of care should be formed by younger staff members who will have milder effects even if infected.
  • The older staff members can provide supervisory support.
  • This will prevent attrition of the health workforce due to exhaustion or illness.
  • Temporary hospitals for treatment and isolation facilities for persons on quarantine may need to be set up at short notice.
  • Industry must produce essential medical equipment and drugs to meet our needs and, if capacity permits, assist other countries.
April 2024