Battle against COVID-19 still far from over: Harsh Vardhan
Unlock aimed at reviving economy, he says in Parliamentby Bindu Shajan Perappadan
The battle against COVID-19 was still far from over, Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan said in Parliament on Monday.
“We are in the stage of unlock to revive the economy and it’s important that sustained community support is ensured consistently to control the spread of COVID-19 infection and break its chain of transmission,’’ he stated on the first day of the 18-day Monsoon Session.
Currently, the maximum COVID-19 cases and deaths have been primarily reported from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Bihar, Telangana, Odisha, Assam , Kerala & Gujarat.
“As on September 11, a total of about 40 lakh persons have been kept under surveillance and extensive contact tracing of all positive cases is regularly being undertaken through disease surveillance network so as to break the chain of transmission. In our country, about 92% of the cases are reported to be having mild disease. In only about 5.8 % of cases oxygen therapy is required and the disease may be severe enough to require intensive care in only 1.7% cases,’’ he said. Many epidemiological parameters such as mode of transmission, sub-clinical infection, period of virus shedding and role of immunity were being researched.
The early lockdown measures was estimated to have prevented approximately 14–29 lakh cases and 37–78 thousand deaths. This time was also utilised to create additional health infrastructure, enhance human resource and produce within the country critical elements such as PPEs, N-95 masks and ventilators.
“A case in point is the increase in dedicated isolation beds 36.3 times and dedicated ICU beds above 24.6 times to what existed in March 2020. Whereas, there was no indigenous manufacturing of PPE, with the requisite standards, at that point in time. We are now self-sufficient and in a position to even export the same,’’ he noted.
According to the Minister, as on September 12, a total of 15,284 treatment facilities, with 13,14,646 dedicated isolation beds without O2 had been created. Also, a total of 2,31,093 oxygen-supported isolation beds and 62,717 ICU beds (including 32,575 ventilator beds) had been created. In addition, a total of 12,826 quarantine centres with 5,98,811 beds have been set up.
The government was proactively identifying gaps and building an Atmanirbhar Bharat that would be able to take challenges of similar pandemics, epidemics and disasters in future.
“An Expenditure Finance Memorandum of ₹65,560.98 crore under the Prime Minister Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana for strengthening it is under consideration. This includes investment in research, healthcare and public health infrastructure with particular focus on pandemic management,’’ he asserted.
Repurposed drug use
Speaking about repurposed drug use in COVID-19, he said that 13 clinical trials of repurposed drugs and harnessing of traditional knowledge using the modern medicine approach were building a portfolio of therapeutic options for COVID-19 patients.
“Phase 2 clinical trial of immune modulator Sepsivac has been completed successfully. Phase 2 clinical trial of the first-ever phytopharmaceutical ACQH is underway. One prophylactic trial of Aswagandha and three trials of Guduchi + Pippali; Yashtimadhu; and polyherbal AYUSH drug (AYUSH-64) are planned on moderately ill COVID-19 patients,’’ he said.
The world was looking at around 145 candidate vaccines in preclinical evaluation and currently 35 vaccines in clinical trials.
“In India, the major focus has been on facilitating the development of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 30 vaccine candidates have been supported and they are in different stages of development; 3 candidates in advanced stage of Phase I/II/III trials and more than 4 are in the advanced preclinical development stage,’’ he noted.
COVID-19 biorepositories have been set up and they have collected more than 40,000 samples which have been made available to researchers and industry for developing diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. “To coordinate procurement and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine, the government has constituted a National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19,’’ he added.