- Health Minister said stigma associated with COVID-19 needs to be addressed
- He directed officials to enhance measures for early diagnosis
- He asked officials to rope in community volunteers to raise awareness
New Delhi: Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan held a high-level meeting on Wednesday to review the prevailing situation and preparedness for management of COVID-19 in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Present in the meeting were Nitinbhai Patel, Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister of Gujarat, and Rajesh Tope, Health Minister of Maharashtra, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, MoS for Health and Family Welfare, among other senior officials from the Centre and the States, reads an official statement.
After a brief presentation on the status of COVID-19 cases in the states and its management, expressing concern regarding the high fatality rate due to COVID-19 in some districts of the states, Dr Vardhan said,
States need to focus on more effective surveillance, contact tracing and early diagnosis to reduce the high fatality rate. Proper interventions, screening and testing of Severe Acute Respiratory Infections (SARI)/Influenza Like Illness (ILI) cases need adequate attention as this may prevent the spread of infection in other areas. Implementation of an effective containment strategy needs to be on the top priority of the states to reduce the mortality rate. It is the need of the hour to take preventive, pre-emptive and comprehensive measures in a systematic manner and follow the protocols laid down by the Centre to prevent the occurrence of fresh cases.
It was pointed out that in some cases the patients either suppressed the information of their infection or reported late to the hospitals for treatment, which may be indicative of some fear or stigma associated with COVID-19.
Dr Vardhan also exhorted the states to focus on Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) among the people to address the stigma associated with community discrimination and ostracisation in the community due to COVID-19 more effectively. “This shall also lead to people reporting early for diagnosis and treatment,” he stated.
Dr Vardhan also suggested that along with the surveillance teams in the containment areas, community volunteers may also be identified at the ward-level to spread awareness about the preventive measures like hand washing, physical distancing, etc., and who can also play an effective role in removing the stigma prevailing in the society. Some districts such as Aurangabad and Pune have done this. Dr Vardhan stated,
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will provide full support and handholding to the state governments through National Health Mission (NHM) for health systems strengthening as part of the immediate and long-term measures.
The Union Health Minister also urged the states to ensure that persons aged more than 65 years along with those having any non-communicable diseases are screened on priority at the Ayushman Bharat-Health and Wellness Centres.
He also pointed out that in compliance of the guidelines already issued by the Centre, non-COVID essential health services such as ANCs of pregnant women, immunisation drives, TB case finding and treatment, providing blood transfusion for dialysis patients, treatment of cancer patients, etc., should not be neglected.
Moreover, Dr Vardhan assured that additional teams comprising officials from Centre will also deployed in the states as per their request. He also informed that the states may also take advantage from the support offered by AIIMS-Delhi for treatment guidance and clinical management of COVID-19 patients through the National Teleconsultation Centre (CoNTeC), where doctors/specialists from AIIMS, New Delhi provide support in real-time.