India recognised Covid threat early; Used digital tech to track, monitor, control: Harsh Vardhan at CDRI, UNDRR event

New Delhi: Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Harsh Vardhan, digitally addressed an event by Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) and UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), on Thursday, 17th December through video conference. The theme of the event was ‘Build Back Better: building resilient health infrastructure and supply chains’, according to a press communication from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW).

At the outset, Health Minister Vardhan applauded the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure for organising the webinar with a forward looking perspective on how to make health infrastructure and supply chains more resilient, the MoHFW stated. Speaking on the Covid-19 trajectory in India, the Health Minister said, “It has been almost one year since the outbreak of Covid-19. While the caseload infection in many parts of the world is decreasing, many others are experiencing a second or even a third peak. Fortunately, in India, the cases are steadily coming down. We recognised the threat early and pursued a scientific, evidence-based approach.”

Highlighting the steps taken by India to handle the unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the Health Minister stated, “Our first step was to expand our present capacities swiftly, whether it was for testing, PPE production, or hospital beds. We looked at the problem in greater granularity and scaled up at an incredible pace.”

He continued, adding, “We also repurposed our capacities from multiple research disciplines across a wide range of public and private institutions. We repurposed defense research capacities for quickly erecting hospitals with enhanced capacity. From being an importer of PPEs before the pandemic, India is now a net exporter of PPEs. We scaled up our testing capacity from a few hundred tests per day to a million tests per day. The nimbleness that the Indian research institutions have shown needs to be not only preserved but also encouraged.”

The Health Ministry stated that the Minister also spoke on how effective communication strategy has been a cornerstone of the approach. He noted, “We have used every possible means to mobilise everyone. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has led this effort and addressed the citizens directly. He has also emphasised the spirit of cooperative federalism, wherein the state and central governments worked hand in hand at each stage.”

Emphasising upon the multipronged approach to combat Covid-19, the Minister said, “Apart from this, we recognised early that while the health sector has to be at the forefront of combating Covid-19, it requires the involvement of all of the government functions – disaster management, industry, civil aviation, shipping, pharmaceuticals, and environment and so on. We innovated early on to establish an institutional platform in the form of “empowered groups” to bring together these multi-sectoral functions in a cohesive manner.”

He also commented, “We made innovative use of a range of digital technologies to track, monitor, and control the disease. In a country like India – with a large digital divide – we had to ensure that we use a judicious mix of different technologies so that no one is left behind.”

Health Minister Vardhan said, “I believe that some of the good practices that have been developed in many countries of the world during the pandemic need to be institutionalised. We do not need to reinvent these in the future. At the same time, we have to think about how we could have done this better. We need a deeper conversation about what “building back better” in the context of public health infrastructure would mean. How do we combine modern science with traditional wisdom? How do we define “health infrastructure”? Is it only the big hospitals, district hospitals, and primary health care centres? Or is it the whole system involving other sectors, including water and sanitation, social welfare, transport, and industry? These are important issues that get thrown up and need revaluation.”

Reiterating that disaster resilience is an essential area of common interest globally, he stated, “Over the past decades, India and nations of the world have seen unprecedented progress in economic and human development. However, as Covid-19 has shown, all of this notable progress is at risk if we do not make our systems resilient. The key lesson from the pandemic is that the principles of resilience must be integral to our quest for economic growth as individual nations and the international community. Our lives and livelihoods may very well depend on it. In doing so, we have to make our systems resilient to not only pandemics but all types of risks, including those emerging from the effects of climate change.”

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan concluded, “We must forge a global dialogue and chart directions for a resilient future for humanity at large. This would be the most worthy tribute to our people – particularly health workers, emergency responders, frontline workers – who have put the world’s safety before their own personal safety.”


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