Odisha has its work cut out to tackle 2nd Covid wave
By Dr Sambit Dash
From 394 Covid-19 cases on April 1 to 1,784 on April 13, Odisha is witnessing a sharp rise in the number of corona cases just like in most other parts of the country. While the absolute numbers remain manageable at the moment, it is set to rise in the coming days. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has sought people’s cooperation to help the Government avoid lockdown by adhering to Covid appropriate behaviour. A lot of lessons, however, need to be learnt from the first wave along with newer knowledge that has emerged in all these months to manage the surge.
Lockdowns are blunt tools that adversely affect the economy, especially those who are economically at a disadvantage. It is a policy that can be adopted only when other policies fail. Certainly, the time hasn’t come for application of such a tool for Odisha. A pandemic has to be fought at multiple fronts and a couple of them that Odisha Government can take up are cluster arrest and effective communication.
It is now known that the second Covid wave, driving on the back of newer variants, waning immunity gained from infection the first time around and the ever present neglect of Covid-appropriate behavior, is spreading fast. Clusters thus need to be identified and arrested at the earliest. For this purpose, testing has to reach to places where large group of people stay close to one another. Municipal authorities should set up testing centres at apartments, slums and high density areas whenever uptick of cases occur in such areas. This will be both easier on people and prevent crowding at testing centres.
Micro-containment zones should be the way forward instead of night curfew that achieve little, other than creating a sense of urgency among people. There is no alternative to the basic tenet in epidemiology of test, trace, isolate. Odisha had appointed public health personnel last year and it is time to utilise their services. Testing facilities should brace for the high load. Factors like personnel burnout, inadequate human resource, delay in procurement of reagents, etc, that were affecting testing during the first wave, should be sorted out. Businesses, especially small and medium scale, would not want lockdowns and curfews and thus those should be urged to strictly adhere to guidelines. Shops and eateries should be asked to ensure that they and their customers adhere to guidelines, for in the event of extended curfews, they stand to be hit directly.
Communication, which plays an important role in public health and which has been a big casualty largely in this pandemic, has a huge role to play. Naveen Patnaik has made a good start by communicating the need for urgency by asking people to wear masks properly. Behavioural changes are toughest to bring about, especially in adults. The Chief Minister should urge the MLAs, cutting across party lines, to lead by example by wearing masks properly at public places. The ASHA system is robust in the State and it should be used to take the message to the community. It should be understood that while messages from the top leadership carry weight, it is equally important to communicate with people at grassroots level, something that Community Health Workers (CHWs) can do with aplomb. It would also be appropriate to reward ASHA and other CHWs for their yeomen service.
Government needs to go all out and use its otherwise widely used communication tools, for not only people have to be nudged to adopt Covid-appropriate behavior, but also promote benefits of vaccination and reduce hesitancy. Taking news channels, new-age media, social media influencers, doctors and religious leaders into confidence and using their influence to reach maximum number of people is desirable at this moment.
The Government has set in motion the process to counter the second wave of Covid, which is heartening. Be it keeping health machinery ready to increase hospital beds as required, allot ICU beds for Covid patients, talking to gram panchayat leaders in migrant workers-dominant villages, the ball has been set rolling to brace for increase in cases. However, for neglected-since-decades healthcare systems, it will never be enough. There are severe deficiencies like unavailability of doctors, large district like Angul having only 6 ICU beds, which will take a little more than short-term measures to address the problem. Until then, good public health practices can help face in what could be a tough second wave.
__ The author is Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Melaka Manipal Medical College (Manipal Campus). He comments on public policy, healthcare and issues of social interest. He tweets at @sambit_dash