India’s Public Health Response to manage COVID-19

India’s Pandemic Management demonstrates power of Strong Political Will, Collaboration, Atma Nirbharta, Innovation and Pride in our efforts: Dr Mansukh Mandaviya.

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The management of the COVID19 pandemic, and especially the recent Omicron surge, has strongly demonstrated to the world the power of strong political will, self-reliance through Atma Nirbharta, innovation powered by technology, shared goals and collaborative efforts through a “Whole of Government and “Whole of Society” approach”. This was stated by Dr Mansukh Mandaviya, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare while delivering the keynote address at a webinar with NITI Aayog and more than 200 NGOs and Civil Society Organizations that have worked at the grassroots during the pandemic. The webinar was titled “India’s Public Health Response to manage COVID-19”.

At the outset, the Union Minister stated that “India’s strategies of public health response have resulted in better management of Omicron surge compared to many other countries”. In a presentation, steps taken by the country demonstrating various timely public health measures were highlighted. At a time when many countries are reporting an increase in the number of daily COVID cases, India’s daily cases have reported a substantial decrease, combined with an increased recovery rate, and high levels of vaccination. Timely measures including test, track and treat approach with focused genome sequencing, containment through containment zones, community surveillance, protocols for home isolation and effective clinical treatment have in tandem contributed to India’s COVID management.

Applauding the collective spirit of the citizens, he said that “India’s vaccination drive is testament to India’s capabilities and power of the people without whom this journey, and this high level of vaccine coverage, would not have been possible.” Despite the large population combined with geographical and sociological diversities, India has set global standards of COVID vaccination, he added. “One of the key achievements has been our capacity to deliver over 1.8 billion Covid vaccine doses across a multitude of regions and terrains.”

Speaking about the challenges India faced during the pandemic, the country has demonstrated that ‘We can do it’, he stated. Timely and prompt decisions for containment, management, treatment and vaccination were taken by India under the leadership and guidance of Hon’ble Prime Minister, he stated. “We have shown the world what a decisive and powerful political will can achieve”, he noted.

He highlighted the crucial role played by technology and how it was leveraged for increased accessibility of healthcare services during the pandemic through eSanjeevani, CoWIN portal for vaccination, Arogya Setu app etc. India’s technological innovations have lent speed and efficiency to the country’s vaccination drive, he stated.

Emphasising the Indian Philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ and ‘Shubh Laabh’, he said, “India has not only produced quality and affordable vaccines, but we have also exported medicines to more than 150 countries on humanitarian grounds. The Vaccine Maitri program of the Government has been lauded globally.”

Dr Mandaviya expressed deep gratitude to all the grassroots NGOs, stakeholders and CSOs who have worked tirelessly among the communities during the pandemic to support them in various ways. “I seek your continued partnership for connecting with the communities to take healthcare services to them. Your work will be pivotal in enhancing awareness and accelerating uptake of e-health services (such as eSanjeevani, and tele-health) among the masses”, he stated.

Dr Mark Esposito, Harvard University stated that the commendable work done by the Government of India lays the foundation that will be able to develop a Government System, which is committed to prompt and science-based response. He also noted that this governance approach of “Whole of Government and Whole of Society” adopted by the Government of India, in terms of dealing with the pandemic and ensuring the success of the vaccination drive, would be a model for dealing with a crisis or similar challenges in the future.

Reaffirming India’s success being embedded in science, Dr. Chris Elias, President, of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation appreciated India’s exemplary response to the COVID Pandemic. He asserted, “However, in dealing with these challenges and ensuring the success of vaccination drive, crucial policy decisions that were taken swiftly, at various junctures, under the leadership and guidance of Prime Minister, for indigenous vaccine manufacturing, rigorous clinical trials and protocols for approvals to ensure the safety of millions of people, meticulous distribution through training of healthcare and frontline workers, AEFI management, to ensure that millions were safely administered COVID-19 vaccines in India played an instrumental role. India’s Pandemic Response and the strategies developed by the country has now become the textbook approach to deal with a future pandemic.”

Outlining the distinctive initiatives that set India apart from many other countries in terms of COVID management, Shri Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog said, “India’s approach was technology-led which helped in achieving this whole of society approach. CoWIN app turned out to be the heart of the vaccination drive. Many challenges like delivery and fair equitable distribution of vaccines were addressed through timely transparent technological and physical interventions. Vaccine hesitancy was prevented through mass communication. Procurement, logistics were solved through robust cold chain ecosystem development. Also, we trained and provided clear information which helped in creating momentum for phase-wise vaccination of vulnerable groups.” He appreciated the role played by CSOs, NGOs in working on the ground. He also emphasized that we were able to achieve this stupendous feat only due to the political will and commitment, clarity of policies and taking all stakeholders in our approach, which shows the good governance model India has adopted.

Representatives from various Community Radio Stations (CRS) and CSOs shared their experience of working on the ground during pandemics. Various CRS stations helped to bust myths by providing authentic and accurate information, simplifying information in local dialects to the masses, providing various services to the communities during the lockdown.