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Covid’s Frontline Warriors

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Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary responses. And no one has risen to the challenge of Covid as admirably as our healthcare workers. It was only fitting, therefore, that the sixth edition of the INDIA TODAY Safaigiri awards are dedicated to these frontline warriors. As a tribute, the commendations this time were called the ‘Healthgiri Awards’ to honour the individuals and institutes that led the way in the fight against the pandemic. In an online event held on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, 11 institutes and individuals received awards in 10 categories.

Acknowledging their stellar role, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a written message, said that serving people during such a crisis is worthy of special recognition. “The exemplary work of our healthcare workforce as frontline warriors in such a scenario assumes even more significance, because the deepest values of humanity that they embody inspire everyone else to rise above the situation.” He also emphasised that wearing masks, observing social distancing, maintaining cleanliness, washing hands and spreading the message of safety to others while leading by example remained our most important tools to score over the virus.

Union minister of health and family welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan reiterated that in his keynote address. He warned that carelessness in following the Covid-19 advisory would make the task more difficult. Face masks, he said, remained the best protection against the virus. Lauding the work of health workers, he said, “We are now [reopening the country], but we have been seeing a significant number of people who are careless in following government guidelines. Face masks are our biggest protection, but we must also remember to maintain do gaj ki doori (a distance of two yards), to wash hands and maintain sanitisation to keep the coronavirus at bay.”

In his welcome address, INDIA TODAY Group Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie recognised the contribution of each sector in the battle against Covid-19. Hospitals, private and public, he said, rose to the challenge within days of the initiation of a coordinated national response. National institutions prepared and revised protocols for diagnostics and testing. State-owned entities, conscious of the ever-changing ground realities, swiftly ferried medicines, ventilators and other equipment across the country. Enterprising companies developed indigenous testing kits and medical equipment at a fraction of the cost of imported ones. Non-governmental organisations contributed in many ways, from providing rations to those in need to making masks and sanitisers. “None of these remarkable people and institutions knew that they would be recognised for their work while they were doing it,” he said.

On their part, the winners of the awards expressed their gratitude for the recognition conferred on them and vowed to continue their work for the benefit of society.

BEST STATE COMBATING COVID-19

WINNER: Kerala

WHY IT WON: Set up 216 Covid hospitals and conducted 1.6 million Covid tests till September 1 Had longer initial 28-day quarantine, built isolation shelters for migrants, set up Covid care centres for tourists and people in transit ‘Break the Chain’ awareness campaign. Formed 190,000 WhatsApp groups to educate on Covid care Provided more than 8.6 million free meals Announced Rs 20,000 cr special package

HIGHLY ALERT

With an overall score of 94.2 out of 100, Kerala emerged as the best state in Covid management. So far, the state has one of the lowest fatality rates in India, 0.38 per cent compared to the national average of 1.58 per cent. As on October 1, the state had reported 204,241 cases with 131,052 (64.16 per cent) recoveries and 771 deaths. Firm action, people’s participation and excellent healthcare delivery have been the main weapons in Kerala’s armoury against Covid-19.

Kerala was where Covid first landed in the country on January 30. With around 1.9 million Keralites working abroad, thousands of students studying in foreign universities, more than a million foreign tourists visiting the state every year and a floating population of 900,000 migrant workers, the state was in the high-risk category. The state also has a high density of population with 859 persons per square kilometre.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his government are now worried about the new wave of infections spreading in the state. “Since the first case was reported in the state, we were far ahead in controlling the spread of the disease, but now that situation is beginning to change,” he said. “On an average, the number of patients is doubling every 20 days. Cases per million in Kerala are 5,143 compared to the national average of 5,852. However, the case fatality rate is much better than the national average. But it will increase with the rise in the number of patients. Our first priority is to check the spread of infection with firm action.” The state government plans to assign gazetted officers to every local self-government body, giving them special powers to execute Covid-related responsibilities. Violations of Covid protocol will also attract heavy fines.

By Jeemon Jacob

BEST GOVERNMENT HOSPITAL COMBATING COVID-19

WINNER: AIIMS, New Delhi

Thank you, IA F planes fly over AIIMS to express gratitude

Taking Charge

Within a few days of the outbreak, AIIMS set up 22 dedicated wards, five ICUs, 90 ventilators and 1,426 isolation wards for Covid patients. “From March itself, we took a leading and holistic role in the pandemic,” says Dr Randeep Guleria, AIIMS director. “We set up a massive procurement, training, testing and treatment chain to cover all aspects of Covid management.”

To juggle the roles of a Covid care centre and the country’s largest public hospital, AIIMS rapidly commissioned buildings in NCI (National Cancer Institute), Jhajjar, to accommodate over 600 patients and nearly 1,700 beds overall for Covid-19. It then transferred all patients from its trauma centre in Delhi, many on ventilators, to the main hospital to convert it into a Covid-19 facility.

AIIMS was also instrumental in expanding Covid testing in the capital. “Real-time PCR facilities were running round the clock to ensure individuals received results within 12 hours,” says Guleria. The hospital is also using its CB-NAAT machines to run Covid diagnoses. Its virology lab is providing training and quality assurance to more than 30 labs across Delhi.

Being the country’s leading research hospital, AIIMS began funding Covid research from April itself and has funded over 50 such projects till date.

By Sonali Acharjee

BEST CHARITY HOSPITALCOMBATING COVID-19

WINNER: CMC, VELLORE

All Hands on Deck

For Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, a 3,000-bed tertiary care teaching and charitable hospital, providing Covid care involved many challenges. Infection control and triaging protocols were put in place in January 2020 and teams created in March worked tirelessly to prepare for the worst and to allay staff and patient anxieties. CMC began by allocating 150 beds in March and currently has 924, including 96 ICU beds, for Covid patients. “A dedicated faculty who led the infection control, engineering and triaging initiatives, backed by a proactive administration, helped us weather this storm,” says medical superintendent Dr K. Prasad Mathews. A Covid Command Centre (CCC) with 70 staff from various departments was set up early on. “The staff had to be trained overnight: training 10,000 staff, each category with their own training needs, was an extremely difficult task,” says Mathews. Challenges continued as CMC faced a severe economic crunch with dropping patient numbers and falling incomes. Several staff donated their salaries while others pledged to take lower pay for six months to help tide over the crisis. CMC provided 24-hour emergency medical and surgical care throughout the lockdown period when most hospitals around were shut. Early preparation, anticipation of shortages of masks and supplies, designing safe, low-cost alternatives of PPE, everything helped in the battle against Covid.

By Amarnath K. Menon

BEST PRIVATE HOSPITAL COMBATING COVID-19

JOINT WINNER: MEDANTA HOSPITAL, Gurugram

On call, Dr Trehan (in white shirt) takes a team meeting

HIGH ON TRUST

With the Covid pandemic and the sudden decline in demand for in-patient and out-patient care, even surgeries shrunk in numbers, Medanta scaled up its technology-based services. Telemedicine consultations saw a 700 per cent growth since before the pre-Covid era and downloads of their app crossed the 100,000 mark. Ensuring that Covid treatment wards are completely separate from non-Covid ones helped build patient trust and confidence as lockdown restrictions began to be lifted. The hospital hasn’t laid off a single employee and mass training campaigns were organised for staff through training modules and awareness sessions.

All the staff who were infected by Covid-19 were treated by the hospital which helped boost trust. “Our goal was to provide reliable Covid care to patients but equally to help keep our staff protected and their morale upbeat,” says Dr Naresh Trehan, founder of Medanta. “A hospital runs on its staff, and Covid was a high-stress time for all, especially as news of healthcare workers being infected in the country began to come in.” As of August 24, the hospital had lost only 121 Covid patients and had a recovery rate of 91 per cent. Medanta also took time to care for non-Covid essential patients, subject to the restrictions, it continued to allow a few essential elective admissions.

Medanta also played a larger role in the pandemic. “There were a lot of misconceptions about Covid and precautions were needed to prevent transmission,” says Dr Trehan. The hospital held over 1,500 digital webinars on Covid awareness, initiated counselling for RWAs and healthcare workers, and put together social media awareness campaigns for responsible mask usage.

By Sonali Acharjee

BEST PRIVATE HOSPITAL

JOINT WINNER: MAX SMART SUPER SPECIALITY HOSPITAL, SAKET, New Delhi

Double duty, Two members of Max’s crack Covid team

First on Many Counts

Towards the end of April, Max Healthcare became the first hospital in the country to successfully treat a Covid patient with plasma therapy. The hospital’s commitment has ensured that it has lost less than a hundred patients since the pandemic began. As of August 24, it had a 97 per cent recovery rate, the highest in the NCR. By then, the hospital had 12 dedicated isolation wards for Covid patients, 4 dedicated ICUs and 32 ventilators. Max implemented strict guidelines which ensured that at no point did non-Covid doctors or patients come into contact with Covid cases. The hospital even set up flu clinics to treat and isolate all those who had symptoms but were not confirmed Covid positive. The hospital also offers home isolation packages.

By Sonali Acharjee

DISTRESS BUSTER

BEST CORPORATE CONTRIBUTION FOR SOCIAL IMPACT DURING COVID-19

WINNER: RELIANCE FOUNDATION

FETY FIRST, Reliance Foundation staff distributes face masks in Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh

The Reliance Foundation set up India’s first dedicated Covid-19 facility in Mumbai, at the SevenHills Hospital, in collaboration with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The 100-bed hospital was scaled up to 250 beds within two weeks. The foundation provided mobile medical units at the doorstep of patients, raised Covid awareness in rural areas and built an isolation centre in Lodhivali, Maharashtra.

At the time of assessment by the jury, the foundation had spent Rs 790 crore on combating Covid-19, including a donation of Rs 500 crore to the PM CARES Fund. The foundation mentored self-help groups and village institutions to produce masks for community and frontline workers and farmer producer organisations to alleviate farmers’ distress during the lockdown. Reliance Nutrition Garden developed a low-cost, organic garden model, built community resilience and ensured better nutrition for families at a nominal cost. The other focus was to create livelihoods for migrants within their villages. Over 5,000 families got help in accessing social entitlements, such as job cards and rations under the public distribution system. Around 7,800 migrant workers were linked to employment opportunities under MGNREGA and 1,500 were re-skilled to take up agri-based activities, such as horticulture, vegetable cultivation and fisheries.

By M.G. Arun

BEST TESTING FACILITY FOR COVID-19

WINNER: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF VIROLOGY, Pune

MISSION POSSIBLE, Dr Priya Abraham

The Virus Watchdog

Since confirming in end-January that the novel coronavirus had arrived in India, the National Institute of Virology has been on a mission to enhance testing capacity, provide training and develop new test kits. Through its efforts, the country now has 107 virus research and diagnostic labs, 935 government hospital labs and 1,500 private labs for Covid. NIV Pune director Dr Priya Abraham started forming teams of scientists from mid-January for the battle ahead while the National Influenza Centre, located inside NIV, began dummy runs of lab corona primers. In the initial days, the NIV bore the entire cost of shipment of samples, deploying staff at airports even at midnight to bring them to the institute. “We worked at high speed to complete testing as patients needed to be isolated,” says Dr Abraham. NIV handles an average 3,000 samples daily and has tested about a third of the total samples in India. “NIV has been able to battle the virus because of good team work. I personally meditate [to ease the pressure], but many people must have prayed for our success,” says Dr Abraham.

By Kiran D. Tare

BEST NGO THAT EXTENDED TIMELY HELP TO MIGRANTS DURING COVID-19

WINNER: RASHTRIYA SEWA BHARATI

HELPING HAND

Turning adversity into opportunity, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’s) social service body, the Rashtriya Sewa Bharati (RSB), has made great strides in serving those in need during these past few months. It opened around 11,000 food distribution centres across the country, as well as 483 medical centres that have helped over 146,000 people. As many as 580,000 RSB workers contributed with their effort in tens of thousands of places across the country: 7.4 million ration kits, 466,000 ready food packets and 9 million masks were distributed, with temporary accommodation being provided to over 200,000 people without shelter. Ayurvedic remedies were distributed to over 6 million people, with more than 6,200 bottles of blood collected for blood banks across India.

The RSB also extended its efforts to help nomadic tribes, with over 267,000 people supplied with food rations. RSB’s national president, Pannalal Bhansaliji, says, “These figures are only up to June 5, our work has continued even after the lockdown was lifted, though we stopped collecting data. This has been the largest-scale effort that the RSB has conducted in its 17-year history.”

It was the current RSS general secretary, Bhaiyyaji Joshi, who helped set up the RSB in 2003, when the RSS felt the need to establish a dedicated organisation for its social service efforts. (The organisation had already been conducting social service programmes under the aegis of several allied organisations.)

Today, the RSB is spread across the country. It runs 120,000 education projects, including 8,000 Vidya Bharati schools, 13,000 health projects, 15,500 social integration projects and 8,000 self-reliance projects. A large number of these projects are run in areas where government assistance is unavailable, for instance, in difficult to reach mountainous areas and rural districts. Parag Abhyankar, the national seva pramukh (social service head) of the RSS, who guides the RSB, says, “We have gained much experience from our work in the Covid period. It has added to our social service vision.”

By Uday Mahurkar

BEST NGO OFFERING HEALTHCARE SERVICES DURING COVID-19

A helping hand, Father Paul Moonjely (in white)

WINNER: CARITAS INDIA

Community Effort

Caritas has played a major role in providing help during the pandemic. Father Paul Moonjely, executive director, says Caritas organised awareness drives, research meetings, webinars and workshops, aside from distributing food, information and other resources. It engaged with government departments at multiple levels, as well as with panchayats, market vendors and bank officials for a nationally-coordinated response. “Our local partners and parishes across the country made available their institutions, hospitals, volunteers and experts to reach out to those who needed help,” says Father Moonjely. “There were even cases where staff contributed a portion of their salaries.”

One of its most commendable efforts was the distribution of food and water to migrant workers returning to their home states on foot. “Food was distributed to relief camps and quarantine centres. Many migrants were also helped with filling up forms for PDS cards,” says Father Moonjely. Caritas also helped with disseminating information about quarantine protocols, train and bus schedules and ticket availability to migrants.

Caritas is now planning to ramp up its efforts. “The migrant crisis, food shortages and the psychological effect on children and parents are all consequences of the pandemic, the areas in which we can help are being continuously identified.”

By Ridhi Kale

BEST INNOVATION FOR COVID-19 RELATED ACTIVITY

WINNER: MYLAB DISCOVERY SOLUTIONS PVT. LTD.

QUICK WORK, Hasmukh Rawal, managing director, Mylab

PASSING THE TEST

On March 18, virologist Minal Dakhave Bhosale, Mylab’s research and development chief, submitted two key proposals, one to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, and the other to the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), for approval on a new RT-PCR Covid diagnosis kit. India was conducting only 1,000 tests daily at the time, a far cry from the 1.5 million being conducted daily as of September 25, and lack of test kits was a major reason why. The Mylab kit became the first domestically-manufactured Covid diagnosis kit that not only reduced the margin for error significantly, but also ensured India could scale up testing.

“When we launched the kit in March end, most kits in the market were expensive. Ours was one-fourth the price cited by ICMR then,” says Hasmukh Rawal, MD, Mylab. With the Mylab kit, chances of false negatives are reduced drastically. “It uses custom-designed primers and probes which can detect several genes from the virus. It also has special home genes that can detect cases if the sample is slightly contaminated” he adds.

By Sonali Acharjee

BEST LOGISTICS SERVICE PROVIDER DURING COVID-19

WINNER: DEPARTMENT OF POSTS, MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS

WHY IT WON: Worked daily to ensure delivery of essential services, particularly of medical supplies Ensured customers are able to do bank transactions Distributed over 600,000 ration kits to the needy

Soldiering on India, Post employees at Delhi’s Gol Market post office

THE POSTAL ARMY

Never in his three decades of service at the department of posts has Rajbir Singh felt the kind of pressure he has during the Covid pandemic, but he has also never felt more proud. A postman at one of Delhi’s busiest post offices, in Connaught Place, Singh and his colleagues from across India kept the country going during the pandemic.

During the lockdown, the postal department’s robust network of 156,000 post offices, of which 141,000 are in rural areas, delivered not only medical kits, ventilators and critical post, but also doorstep delivery of pensions and social sector benefits, says Pradipta Kumar Bisoi, secretary at the department of posts. The India Post service conducted 38 million India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) transactions worth Rs 9,166 crore; of which 11.7 million were Aadhaar-enabled payment transactions worth Rs 2,196 crore, in the lockdown period, while over 200,000 postmen and gramin dak sevaks did doorstep delivery of cash.

The postal department used the railway freight network to reach nearby cities and then the mail motor service vehicles to ferry essential goods. Hundreds in the department’s workforce succumbed to Covid. “We have made special arrangements of ex gratia compensation of

Rs 10 lakh and jobs on compassionate grounds to the nearest kin,” says Bisoi.

By Anilesh S. Mahajan

CELEBRITY WHO HAS DONE EXEMPLARY WORK DURING COVID-19

A LIFELINE, Sonu Sood ensuring a safe departure for migrant workers in Wadala, Mumba

WINNER: SONU SOOD

REEL VILLAIN, REAL HERO

While most of his peers used the lockdown to take a sabbatical and stayed indoors, Sonu Sood stepped up and emerged a hero, a role that Bollywood hasn’t often entrusted him with. The actor’s charitable work during the pandemic has been so effective that he has become a helpline of sorts.

It all began with him helping the daily wage workers who, stranded in cities with no work, negligible savings and desperate to return to their hometowns, began making their way home, covering hundreds of kilometres on foot. April saw him start a food and ration drive, ‘Shakti Annadanam’, under which 45,000 people stranded on roads and highways in Mumbai were fed. He also opened the doors to his hotel Shakti Sagar in Mumbai to healthcare and frontline workers battling Covid. In May, Sood and his friend Neeti Goel kicked off the ‘Ghar Bhejo’ initiative, arranging buses, trains and even flights to send more than 75,000 migrants to their homes in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Assam, Jharkand and Uttarakhand. He also started ‘Pravasi Rojgaar’, a virtual platform which aims to provide employment opportunities to 20 million people over the next five years. Sood even started a toll-free number after his social media was inundated with pleas for help.

Ask the Dabangg actor what keeps him going and he says: “It is the prayers and wishes that I get from the people in need. I have miles to go but the journey is on. The only way to survive in this world is to give back to the society. I promise to do this till my last breath.”

By Suhani Singh



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