World Health Day: Challenges to healthcare during Covid times

The healthcare industry probably took the brunt of the Covid 19 pandemic in many ways.

By Dr Sudarshan Ballal,

2020 has been a devastating year for all of us in the healthcare industry and the society in general. The healthcare industry probably took the brunt of the Covid 19 pandemic in many ways. The sheer volume of patients coming with Covid all in a short period of time overwhelmed most of the healthcare sectors in the world Fortunately, our country fared a lot better than the rest of the world and managed the Covid pandemic well.

In the initial phase of the pandemic in addition to taking care of the Covid patients we had a huge challenge of taking care of the non-Covid patients in view of the lockdown, isolation procedures, fear of the disease and stigma attached to patients with Covid and hospitals treating Covid patients. Since it was a new disease we also had an unprecedented challenge of a large number of healthcare workers getting infected with the disease and unfortunately some of them succumbing to the disease.

In the early phases of the disease there was almost an 70 to 80% drop in footfalls and revenues in most hospitals but we met the challenge efficiently and were able to overcome and mitigate the effect of Covid in the subsequent months by being more efficient, better isolation and segregation of Covid non-Covid patients, instilling confidence in the population of the extraordinary precautions we have taken to make them safe in the hospital environment

During the peak Covid times we ensured that critically ill patients and patients with serious diseases who could not afford to delay their treatment were specially taken care of with adequate safety precautions and transportation facilities for a smooth continuity of care. A special example was the dialysis patients in whom missing dialysis could be fatal, were provided with ambulances and also the police on our request provided them transportation services so that they did not miss the dialysis.

One of the greatest benefits of Covid was that it gave a great impetus to Digital health and we used it very extensively for patient consultations along with boosting the use of home care for routine purposes, testing for Covid and monitoring of asymptomatic and mild cases at home and Covid care facilities.

Also over a period of time better awareness of the disease, protocolised therapy and decrease in the mortality helped build up confidence in the public and get rid of the stigma attached to the disease.

The availability of vaccines from January of this year was another boost to the confidence of both patients and health care workers

However foreign travel restrictions and travel within the country was still an issue and patients from far off places and outside the country still could not come in in adequate numbers for the care but there was better penetration of the local market so that the hospital numbers started coming back to almost pre-Covid levels by end of the 3 rd quarter of last year.

In fact once the Covid numbers dropped drastically between November 2020 to to February 2021 a huge number of patients who had delayed their coming to the hospital started coming in and the hospitals were running full in January February till the second wave struck in March of this year.

There are many lessons we have learnt during the Covid times and these were

1) Lockdown was essential but painful during the first round of Covid but we should now push hard and implement Covid appropriate behaviour among the general public specially masking ,distancing ,avoiding crowds and hand washing to make sure that we do not have to go for a second lock down.

2) We need to push for mass aggressive vaccination as soon as possible so that we reduce the burden of disease and transmissibility of the disease but DO NOT LET OUR GUARD DOWN just because the vaccine is here

3) Future healthcare at hospitals should have facilities where both pandemic related illnesses like Covid and non-Covid care specially of NCD is possible.

4) One of the most important lessons of Covid was the working together of the government and private health care as a PPP model and certainly with a proactive government Karnataka was a role model in this field.

Manipal Hospital is doing everything possible to mitigate the effects of the second wave of Covid by ; Huge efforts to create awareness of Covid appropriate behaviour. We have also encouraged as far as possible Covid care at home, Covid care centres, outpatient and daycare and use hospital beds only when absolutely needed making sure that the hospital remains safe for non-Covid care in addition to catering to the needs of Covid patients. We have also actively participated in the government‘s Covid vaccination drive both for healthcare workers and as per government rules all about the age of 45.

All in all Manipal hospitals have been in the forefront of tackling the Covid pandemic with the least disturbance for non-Covid care but ultimately the control of Covid is a public health measure and is very dependent on the participation of the citizens

(The author is Chairman, Manipal Hospitals. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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