New Delhi: Dr Shashank Joshi is a consultant endocrinologist at Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital and is a member of the Maharashtra’s COVID Task Force. Born in Mumbai, 54-year-old Dr Joshi has been in the field for almost three decades and has also played a key role in formulating significant COVID decisions along with the state and national government during the pandemic.
On the occasion of Independence Day, NDTV speaks with Dr Shashank Joshi to know where we are on the the fight against the virus and what the road ahead looks like.
How COVID-19 Changed The Face Of Healthcare System In India?
Dr Shashank Joshi said,
When COVID-19 struck India, we didn’t know much about it. There were a lot of uncertainties, we didn’t know much about the virus – right from its origin, transmission and how deadly it is. So, both personally and professionally this was a very different experience. It was a large public health crisis, which was grappling the world and India was no exception. But, look at us now, from early 2020, when COVID first case was registered in India and till today, there has been a 360-degree learning curve. We have progressed in terms of treatment, infrastructure and vaccination drives.
Learnings And Challenges In The Battle Of COVID-19
Dr Shashank Joshi said,
The first challenge was that there was a constant fear and risk for healthcare workers involved that at some point they will also catch the virus.
Remembering the early days in the fight against coronavirus, Dr Joshi said his family too was afraid since there was no particular treatment to the disease. He said, “I too had that fear, but I knew scientifically that 80 per cent of the COVID-19 cases are mild. It is only that 20 per cent where the cases can turn severe. In early days of May last year, I too contracted the virus, but I had a mild symptomatic infection.”
Talking about the other major challenges, Dr Joshi added,
The another difficult aspect in this battle was to understand everyone’s viewpoints and then take a decision. Since the virus was so different and new, every opinion counted, but to take those in consideration and then come up with a plan of action that actually helps the onground situation was a very big and difficult task.
Talking about the infrastructural difficulties, Dr Joshi further added, “Initially, we didn’t even have adequate healthcare infrastructure, which was needed to deal with such a big crisis. In Mumbai, jumbo facilities gave us the buffer time to overcome the shortage of facilities in the city. The challenge here was to take the decision of making such facilities in record breaking time period.”
On data and scientific research, Dr Joshi said
The biggest problem in COVID was that a lot of data that came to healthcare workers was in pre-print stage and wasn’t peer-reviewed. So, we struggled with research-based or evidence-based data that was needed to go ahead with the treatment.
Can State & Centre Work In Coordination & Deal With The Pandemic?
Dr Joshi said,
I personally feel it is possible. That has been the case with Maharashtra and central government coordination. Over the past few years, it has been very smooth and that is because both had one common goal – make India free from COVID-19. The best example of coordination between the state and centre can also be seen from the vaccination programme, it was launched very smoothly. The second classic coordination example, I would like to give is for genomic surveillance through CSIR labs and Maharashtra government. We know, a lot of delta variant strains came from the state, so, getting the right genomic data was the key. Even for delta plus variant, because of data sharing by these labs, we were able to identify it in different parts of Maharashtra.
Why Maharashtra Has Been On The Top Of COVID Charts In India Since The Beginning
Dr Joshi said it is unfortunate that Maharashtra has been on the top of charts of COVID-19 in India, explaining the reasons behind it, he added,
If we talk about Mumbai, the risk of transmission will always be high as it is a place with high population density, mobility and migration. Another major reason is crowd congregation.
Maharashtra Government’s Strategy To Handle The Third Wave
Dr Joshi said that in the third wave the priority for Maharashtra is to ensure every individual gets the best treatment as soon as possible. He added, “We want to work aggressively towards vaccination drive so that maximum number of people get some protection. Next is we need to have active surveillance and contact tracing. We want to make micro containment zones where we identify patients and close contacts, isolate them and then give them proper treatment.”
Way Forward For India
Giving a message to the policymakers on how they should gear up to fight future pandemics and deal with the ongoing crisis, Dr Joshi added,
For COVID-19, policymakers have to just ramp up vaccination and ensure it is given to as many people as possible on priority. Second is to have a zero-tolerance policy against people who are not following covid appropriate behaviour or not adhering to the public guidelines.
He further added,
India is a global medical hub, it has handled smallpox, polio to nipah viruses in past. I am sure, we will also be able to handle COVID-19. We just need to be vigilant, and we need to have good public health and hygiene practices and work towards strengthening those.
What Should Be India’s Health Priorities & How Can We Achieve A COVID Free World
Signing off, Dr Shashank Joshi said,
We have to learn to live with COVID and therefore we have to behave responsibly. We have to ensure, we follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour – we are wearing double masks, when required and wearing it properly, we are maintaining distance and avoiding crowds. We need to take maximum precautions. Once we have any COVID like symptoms, we need to promptly self-isolate, get tested. Lastly, everyone’s priority should be to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Despite of vaccination, we should not let our guard down, because of COVID-19 strains, individuals can get infected with the virus, even after getting vaccinated so masking is mandatory.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.