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1.5 million cases of Coronavirus: India 'in a better position than others' says PM

Source: AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool

India, where almost 50,000 cases of Coronavirus are being recorded daily, is in a "better position than other countries" according to the Prime Minister of the country, Narendra Modi.

India's prime minister says the death rate in India from Coronavirus is far lower than that of the other large nations. 

"The recovery rate is better than most countries and already getting better," Narendra Modi said, adding "The world is praising us because of the efforts of the foot soldiers. We don't lack awareness."


Highlights:

  • India has crossed the 1.5 million mark in Coronavirus cases.
  • The country is third worst-hit in the world after the US and Brazil.
  • India has a historically poor investment in the public health system
     

Mr Modi was speaking at a virtual event to mark the opening of the "high throughput" COVID-19 testing facilities in three different parts of the country. 

As the government was being praised India recorded 49,931 cases in a day on Monday, taking the seven-day-average to over 45,000.

India has recorded the third-highest number of cases (15,24,168) just behind the US and Brazil.

33,425 people have lost their lives due to COVID-19 in India with 654 deaths reported on Tuesday.

Mr Modi said India is better off because of the right decisions at the right time. 

"What India did with PPE, masks, test kits, it is a massive success story. At one point, India didn't manufacture a single PPE kit. Now it is the world's second-largest manufacturer. Over 1,200 manufacturers are making PPE kits within six months. Ove three lakh N-95 masks are being made in India today. Three lakh ventilators can now be produced every year," he said.

Covid-19 infected patients perform yoga inside an isolation ward at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Village sports complex which was temporarily converted into a coronavirus care centre in New Delhi. (Photo by Manish Rajput / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Patients perform yoga inside an isolation ward at the Commonwealth Village which was temporarily converted into a coronavirus care centre in New Delhi.
Manish Rajput / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

However, many don't agree with Mr Modi.

Senior journalist Narendra Nath Mishra says it is understandable that as the head of the nation the prime minister is trying to motivate people with good things but the reality on the ground speaks differently.

'We are going to cross the 1.5 million figure today. The death rate is increasing. In states like Bihar, which is larger than many countries, there are no beds for the patients. This is the ground reality,' says Mr Mishra.

How is India responding?

Dr Preeti Kumar is the Vice President- Public Health System Support at the Public Health Foundation of India. 

She says if we look at the numbers for the entire country, the overall response has been good. Though the absolute number of cases is high, India, with 520 cases per million and mortality at 15 deaths per million, is among the lowest in the world.

Dr Kumar says health is a state subject (in India) and the differential response across the states has been determined to a large extent, by the existing capacity of the health system and its ability to scale up to surge capacity in the time of COVID.

A health worker checks the body temperature of a kid at a children's home.
A health worker checks the body temperature of a kid at a children's home.
Photo by Ashish Vaishnav / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

"Some of the examples such as political ownership of the response, early response, mobilisation of public health and administrative system, strategic guidance, have enabled a more coordinated response in a federal structure, which are worth emulating," says Dr Kumar.

However, even after seven months, there are many imponderables related to the virus, environment and the evolving information on how to respond and manage COVID.

In India, the epidemic is largely concentrated in the metropolitan cities of a few states, such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.

"Some of the cities, such as Ahmadabad and Delhi, are beginning to show declining trends in new cases. The management of COVID outbreak in Dharavi, with one of the highest population densities, is a significant achievement," says Dr Kumar.

However, "test positivity is worryingly high, averaging >10% in most cities, indicating that the testing needs to be further increased," she adds.

At present, the country is testing 11,480 people per million people. However, the numbers vary significantly with states. 

The testing is particularly poor in states such as Bihar and UP, where the new caseload is on an uptick.

"Newer pockets of infection are growing in states such as UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka – probably the impact of the mass scale migration from Maharashtra, Delhi and southern states. In contrast to the earlier affected states, cases are more widely dispersed across most districts in the newer states in the north, challenging the poorer health systems in these states," she said.

What's hampering the Indian response?

Dr Preeti Kumar says a historically poor investment in the public health system, particularly the primary healthcare system, has been a limitation to scaling up the response.

A dog lunges at another on the main square in Dharmsala, India, Saturday, July 25, 2020. This Himalayan town, which is teeming with tourists each summer, is now empty due to the corona pandemic. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)
A dog lunges at another on the main square in Dharmsala, India, Saturday, July 25, 2020.
AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia

"Poor investment in health, limited planning of human resources in health, weak monitoring and surveillance systems and dependency for services on a heterogeneous poorly regulated private sector have hampered the response.

"The urban primary healthcare system is particularly weak, hampering the capacity of the health system to mount the critical interventions of contact tracing, tracking, quarantine in urban and urban slum areas."

Community engagement has been a significant lacuna, according to Dr Kumar.  

"Other than Kerala, no other state has built up a successful model of participatory, decentralised community engagement and empowerment, to respond effectively to the epidemic. Compliance of non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as Mask, distancing, cough etiquette – depends largely on community education, participation and compliance."

Lessons from the pandemic

The country has lost more than 32,000 lives and still counting. There are some valuable lessons to learn from this crisis, such as significant investments to strengthen the surveillance and outbreak response systems.

"India will need to make significant investments in strengthening the primary healthcare system, as the first responders, keeping in mind that the frequency and severity of epidemics and other disasters are likely to go up globally," suggests Dr Kumar.


 

Residents in metropolitan Melbourne are subject to stay-at-home orders and can only leave home for essential work, study, exercise or care responsibilities. People are also advised to wear masks in public.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. 

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus 

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