Preparedness costs only fraction of impact of a pandemic but returns exponentially: Harsh Vardhan

Underlining the need for greater collaboration between countries on various aspects of health, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said Wednesday said that an important lesson COVID-19 has taught is that preparedness costs only a fraction of the impact of a pandemic, but the returns on this investment are exponential.

He made these remarks during his virtual address to the conference on “COVID-19 Pandemic: A Call for Health Security and Peace in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region”, the health ministry statement said.

Revisiting the one-year wrath of the novel coronavirus since COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern, Vardhan said, the pandemic has underlined the need for greater collaboration between countries on various aspects of health.

“We must admit that in such times of global crisis, both risk management and mitigation would require further deepening of global partnerships to re-energize interest and investment in global public health. We also need to conquer the adversary by supplementing each other’s capacity by pooling our resources,” he said.

“An important lesson COVID19 has taught us is that preparedness costs only a fraction of the impact of a pandemic, but the returns on this investment are exponential. This pandemic disrupted life as we knew it, but also provided a steep learning curve for all of us to become more resilient and better prepared for the future.

“But we must all understand and agree, shared challenges shall only be overcome through shared efforts. No country can prepare or remain safe in silos,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.

India”s federal structure and subsequent public health system posed various challenges due to the wide diversity that prevails throughout the length and breadth of the country, he said.

The Union Health minister highlighted that considering this, India’s pandemic management was based on centralized monitoring but decentralized implementation approach, the statement said.

He added that to effectively monitor the pandemic, India established a digitally enabled COVID War room at the central level as well as the state level to increase agility and enhance efforts in the fight against the virus.

“One of the most crucial aspects of our fight against COVID19 was centralized training of frontline health workers and constant dissemination of authenticated information to the masses through various mediums to mitigate the misconceptions around COVID19 and to spread awareness about COVID appropriate behaviour,” he added.

The minister highlighted India’s response to handling the COVID-19 pandemic in respect to technical innovations related to surveillance, logistic and supply chain management, medical devices, and other aspects of clinical management that have been introduced in response to COVID-19.

He presented the example of CoVID India Portal, ICMR Portal, RT-PCR app, Facility App, ArogyaSetu App, ITIHAS app, Telemedicine (for CoVID and Non-CoVID services), the statement said.

To ensure the continuity of health services during the pandemic, a nationwide Telemedicine service (eSanjeevani OPD application) was launched and in a short span of 14 months, more than 5 million consultations have been conducted in 28 states in India, he said.

Highlighting the need for vaccination, the minister said it is an important strategy for disease prevention and plays a critical role in mitigating the impact of a pandemic.

India has extensively utilised digital technologies for the effective implementation of the CoWIN platform created for inventory management and delivery of the COVID -19 vaccine. India has also engaged with various countries bilaterally by providing vaccinations in grants under the humanitarian initiative Vaccine Maitri. Under this initiative, India has also supplied one lakh vaccine dose to Oman, the minister said.

The Union Health Minister highlighted that Oman is an important strategic partner of India linked by geography, history, and culture and enjoys warm and cordial relations.

In the field of Healthcare, India and Oman have already established a well-versed mechanism through the Joint Working Group, the statement said.

Vardhan also pointed out that the exponential increase in urbanisation has not just led to massive non-communicable and communicable diseases, but also several other public health threats.

He thus emphasised the need for greater collaboration between countries on various aspects of health and stressed for exchange of experience, learning, and innovations as well as best practices to strengthen health systems.

He suggested that programs must be designed to prepare to work in a world largely shaped and defined by rapidly changing realities, better equipped to face sudden public health threats like pandemics.

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