(This article has been updated to include the link to the audio interview with Dr Girdhar Gyani.)
“Yes, we are calling it Stage 3. Officially we may not call it – but it is the beginning of Stage 3,” said Dr Girdhar Gyani, the convenor of a task force on COVID-19 hospitals, in an interview to the The Quint.
Dr Gyani, who’s the founder of the Association of Healthcare Providers, was part of a video conference of healthcare professionals with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March. This task force on COVID-19 hospitals is among a couple of task forces that were created in response to an initiative led by NITI Aayog to combat coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Dr Gyani is an engineer who holds a PhD in Quality Management. His NGO – the Association of Healthcare Providers – actively advises the government with policy-making around healthcare.
“We are running short of time in preparing COVID-19 hospitals as the outbreak in India can happen any day in the coming weeks. We do not have enough trained medical staff and COVID-19 hospitals yet,” Dr Gyani further added.
Stage 3 refers to community transmission. It is considered to be the most critical stage during an outbreak. In Stage 3, an epidemic spreads fast, as it gets difficult to trace the original source of transmission.
He said the next five to 10 days would be crucial to control the epidemic as those who are asymptomatic may start showing symptoms.
For the full unedited audio interview recorded on 25 March, click here:
‘Govt Does Not Have Enough Testing Kits’
He pointed out that the government is still “testing only those who have all three symptoms together – coughing, breathing problem, and fever. If the patient has only one of the symptoms, then they will not be tested.” That needs to change.
Below is the transcript of the interview:
So if a person only has fever, he/she cannot get the COVID-19 test done?
No, they (doctor) will tell you to go to a private or government hospital and get treated for fever.
But then the person could be infected?
Yes, he could be. The point is, they (government) fear that these unsure cases might consume all the testing kits. That’s why they are not doing enough COVID-19 tests.
Does the government not have enough testing kits?
Dr Gyani pointed out that the government needs to re-strategise – and not test only those showing all the symptoms “if it is serious about breaking the chain of transmission”.
As of 25 March, the government has established 118 testing labs in the country. Together, they have the capacity to conduct 15,000 tests every day, said Dr Gyani. Apart from this, 16 private labs have also been made operative.
In the meeting chaired by PM Modi, a decision was taken to convert government hospitals into dedicated COVID-19 hospitals with the help of private hospitals that, in turn, can supply medical equipment and trained doctors and medics.
“The challenge to my mind is that first we have to identify COVID-19 hospitals and then train nurses, medics and co-workers,” he said.
“Some medical college hostels were asked to vacate. To that the Prime Minister said that they shouldn’t, instead the final year students should remain there so that they can help during emergency.... and that the final year students could be given a certificate and deployed in COVID-19 hospitals with a little bit of training.”Dr Gyani
‘We Are Running Out of Time’
The government plans to set up COVID-19 hospitals with a minimum of 600 beds in smaller districts and a minimum of 3,000 beds in metropolitan cities like Delhi.
How many hospitals would be required in India?
Let’s say, Delhi has a population of 3 crore. We said we should keep at least 3,000 hospital beds ready. And separate COVID-19 centres would also be required for those who are to be kept in quarantine or those who have recovered from the coronavirus infection. Such centres can be made by converting guest houses and hostels.
‘Transportation of Patients a Big Worry’
How does the government plan to handle villages and small towns?
In a place like Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, keeping in mind the population, one would need 600 beds. But there are no 600-bed hospitals – only small hospitals exist. So one has to pool so many hospitals together. And one has to ensure that proper transportation arrangements are done to shift patients. That is one important exercise and this is one of the recommendations I have made.
Don’t you think time is really short? Aren’t we running out of time?
I said the same thing in the meeting to the prime minister.
India’s first active case of COVID-19 was reported on 30 January. As of 28 March, the active cases in India have crossed the 800-mark.
(This story has been updated to include more information on Dr Gyani’s role as the convenor of a task force on COVID-19 hospitals.)