Foreign aid allocated to states, UTs for COVID management

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New Delhi, May 4 (PTI) The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday said that aid received from other countries has been distributed in different states to help deal with the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Based on the criteria and principles laid out by the ministry, depending on each state's requirement, 24 different categories of items numbering nearly 40 lakhs were distributed to 38 institutions in different states, the ministry said in a statement.

Major categories of equipment include BiPAP machines; oxygen (concentrators, cylinders, PSA Oxygen plants and pulse oximeters); drugs (Favipiravir and Remdesivir); and PPE (coveralls, N-95 masks and gowns).

Since grant in aid is limited in quantity, it has to be optimally utilized by allocating it to high burden states [states with higher number of active cases], where the requirement for such equipment/medicines is more, according to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for allocations.

Spreading such aid thinly each time over a large number of states may not bring forth the desired results, the ministry said, adding it will also lead to small packages travelling large distances, high turnaround times and possible wastage of resources.

The requirement of the high burden states in the context of number of persons admitted in hospitals and prior distribution done by the central government resources would also be considered.

Special focus can also be on states considered as medical hubs of the region, which have a patient in-flow from neighbouring states/cities.

In some cases, resource low states such as North Eastern and hill states where tankers etc don't reach, can also be covered to shore up their needs, the ministry said.

The 31 states and UTs which have either received or where the equipment has been dispatched include -- Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Karnataka.

As the different tranches are coming in, the rest of the states and UTs will also be covered in the coming days.

For all consignments received via MEA and coming as donations from foreign countries, the consignee is the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS). Upon receipt of the papers outlined in the process flow chart, IRCS issues the necessary certificates immediately to HLL for processing customs and regulatory clearances at Airports.

IRCS also ensures liaison with MoHFW and HLL so that delays are reduced and quick turnarounds are achieved, the ministry said.The HLL Lifecare Limited (HLL) is the customs agent for IRCS, and the distribution manager for MoHFW.

The consignments are processed at airport and transported for distribution by HLL. In case of consignments arriving at military airports, or bog items like oxygen plants, Dept of Military Affairs (DMA) assists HLL.

'Accessibility and the immediate use of resources to save the lives drives the need for immediate allocation of short-notice incoming consignments. The materials from abroad are currently coming in different numbers, specifications and at different times,” the statement said.

'Hence there is a need to reconcile the distribution logistics with the need to reach the materials as expeditiously as possible to the states,' it added.

The allocations are done keeping in mind equitable distribution and the load on tertiary health care facilities.

In the first few days, the states were covered via the AIIMS and other central institutions where the critical care patients load is high and where the need is highest.

Besides, the central government hospitals, including DRDO facilities in Delhi and NCR were also supplemented through the aid. It has been seen that tertiary health care facilities normally have higher number of cases with severe symptoms of COVID and are often the only succour to people in the region for quality tertiary care, according to the statement.

A cell was created in the health ministry under Additional Secretary [Health] to coordinate the receipt and allocation of foreign COVID relief material as grants, aid and donations.

This cell started functioning on April 25 and comprises one Joint Secretary on deputation from Ministry of Education, two Additional Secretary level officers from MEA, Chief Commissioner Customs, Economic Advisor from Ministry of Civil Aviation, Technical Advisor Dte. GHS, Representatives from HLL, two joint secretaries from health ministry and Secretary General along with another representatives from IRCS.

The medical items started coming in as donations from different countries after the rise in sudden cases of COVID across the different parts of the country from the last week of April, via the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

Later on, supplies coming from private companies, entities etc also started routing through the NITI Aayog and are handled by this cell.

The group meets virtually at 9.30 am everyday to sort out all pending issues.

Apart from this, a high-level committee under CEO, NITI Aayog and comprising of Secretary Expenditure, MEA and officials of NITI Aayog and Health Ministry has also been formed to oversee the whole operation.

The MEA is the nodal agency for channelling offers of help from foreign countries and coordinates with missions abroad. The MEA has issued its own SOPs, which are applicable across the board.

'There has been an unprecedented surge in the number of COVID-19 cases across the country. The health infrastructure of several states and UTs has been overwhelmed by the very high number of daily cases and increased mortality,' the statement said.

The ministry also listed steps taken for expeditious clearance on fast track basis. PTI PLB MGA MGA MGA MGA