Expressing concern over high fatality rate among COVID-19 patients in some districts of Maharashtra and Gujarat, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday asked the states to focus on early surveillance, aggressive contact tracing and early diagnosis to reduce the number of deaths in the areas.
The minister held a high-level meeting with Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister Nitinbhai Patel and Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope.
In the meeting, Vardhan stressed on the need for proper interventions like screening and testing of severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and Influenza Like Illness (ILI) cases as this may prevent spread of infection in other areas. "Implementation of effective containment strategy needs 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 occurrence of fresh cases," he said.
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.
Aggressive behavioural change and communication exercise need to be taken for removing the stigma against reporting COVID-19, which shall contribute towards timely reporting, clinical management and reduction in fatality rates, the minister stressed.
"This shall also lead to people reporting early for diagnosis and treatment," he said.
Of the 1,694 fatalities and 49,391 cases of coronavirus infections reported till Wednesday morning, Maharashtra tops the tally with 617 fatalities and 15,525 cases followed by Gujarat with 368 deaths and 6,245 cases, according to the data provided by the Union health ministry.
The health ministry had on Tuesday said the nationwide COVID-19 case status will be updated on its website only once a day in the morning instead of twice a day as was being done previously.
In view of Gujarat and Maharashtra reporting larger number of coronavirus deaths and cases, Vardhan suggested that along with the surveillance teams in 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.
Some districts such as Aurangabad and Pune have done this, he said.
The health ministry would provide full support and handholding to the state governments through the National Health Mission (NHM) for health systems strengthening as part of the immediate and long-term measures, the health minister stated.
He also appreciated the move by some districts where the high-risk population, including the elderly and those with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, were identified and provided focused treatment.
The Union minister urged the states to ensure that persons aged more than 65 years having any non-communicable disease are screened on priority in the Ayushman Bharat-Health and Wellness Centers.
He also pointed out that in compliance of the guidelines issued by the Centre, non-COVID-19 essential health services such as antenatal care, immunisation drives, Tuberculosis case finding and treatment, providing blood transfusion for dialysis patients, treatment of cancer patients among others should not be neglected.
Vardhan suggested that the data available with the states on Health Management Information System (HMIS) for various diseases may be optimally utilised for risk profiling.
He also assured that additional teams comprising of officials from the Centre will also be deployed in the states as per their request, adding they may also take support offered by AIIMS, Delhi for treatment guidance and clinical management of COVID-19 patients through the national teleconsultation centre.
"A single mobile number (+91 9115444155) can be dialed from anywhere in the country by COVID-19 treating doctors to reach the centre," he informed.
The health minister also asked the states to publicise the Aarogya Setu mobile application and the Aarogy Setu Interactive Voice Response System facility for those without smartphones.
He also appreciated the best practices shared by the district magistrates, commissioners and other officials of various districts like 'Corona Yodha Samitis' developed in slum areas of Surat in Gujarat, distribution of soaps and masks to each family, installation of hand washing machines in slum areas, setting up of fever clinics among others.