MUMBAI: Nationalisation of hospitals is not the solution to tackle the rising burden of cases due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Sangita Reddy joint managing director, Apollo Hospitals, the country’s largest hospital group with a turnover of over Rs 9,500 crore, has said, while emphasizing that it will partner with the government in its war against the outbreak. Reddy, also the president of Ficci (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industries) said that the group’s six labs across five cities (Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai, Bhubaneswar and Kolkata) have now been approved for Covid-19 testing on March 28, and will begin testing shortly. Excerpts from an emailed interaction with TOI:
Q: Given the scenario that a majority, or around 66% of hospital beds are in the private sector, there’s a view that the government should nationalise hospitals? What is your view? How would Apollo contribute in this case?
Q: In the wake of rising Covid-19 cases in India, how prepared is India with infrastructure like ventilators, ICU beds, and isolation wards ?
A: With our network of 70 hospitals, we have the largest number of isolation and ICU facilities in the private sector, and are fully prepared for a stage where highly specialised treatment for the critically ill will be required. Across the network, we have over 250 beds which can be enhanced to 500 beds, created only to treat the critically ill at any given time and around 1000 ventilators. We expect to give advanced care to over 2000 patients a month. Medicines, consumables, hospital supplies, negative pressure rooms, ventilators and additional medical equipment has been procured or reserved with vendors to meet any increase in demand. We have also ensured stocking of PPE (personal protection equipment) for all our staff.
Q 3. Do you feel that India is testing less, and even asymptomatic people should be tested?
A: I believe that while widespread testing with expansion of the conditions for testing will be necessary, the testing strategy takes into account several factors including the current recommendations, availability of test kits and the testing infrastructure. With private labs now being allowed to test for Covid-19, the testing capacity will no doubt increase but may still need to be restricted to symptomatic patients. Even the ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) has indicated that there is insufficient documented evidence on transmission from asymptomatic persons. What is being done however is intensification of random sampling of people who display flu-like symptoms but don’t have any history of travel to Covid-19 zones. This will also help to determine whether community transmission is taking place.
One of the issues with testing asymptomatic people is that due to a lower virus load, the report may be negative and the patient may move out of quarantine while the disease and symptoms develop over the next two weeks. This is a big risk. One also needs to be wary of the false positives. A study in China in the close contacts of Covid-19 patients, showed nearly half or even more of the `asymptomatic infected individuals’ reported in the active nucleic acid test screening might be false positives..
Q. What would be the economic impact of the situation on healthcare/ hospitals sector in near term and medium term?
A: I believe that this is not the time to think of the economic impact as it is not just the Indian healthcare sector but the global economy that has been and will be impacted in the months to come. In the short term, the impact on medical value travel or medical tourism will be negative, but in the longer term, I am sure that healthcare being a resilient industry will bounce back to its normal growth.
Q. Are there any lessons for India and its healthcare sector, from countries like Italy, which have supposedly not handled the situation properly? And anything from those who handled it well like South Korea?
A: The government’s response shows that we have learnt from the experience of the other countries. This is evident from the decision taken to lock down a nation of 1.3 billion people with trains, flights, buses stopped for everything other than emergencies or essential services. As far as it comes to healthcare, we are on top of the latest recommendations for drugs which may benefit patients with Covid-19 with the government taking necessary steps to ensure supply by restricting exports. This is a situation that requires nations to close borders, but at the same time cooperate on a global scale to meet this unprecedented healthcare challenge.
With news of healthcare providers succumbing to the virus, one learning is that we must focus more on protecting our doctors and healthcare workers so that while they treat and live up to this call to action to serve humanity, they are safeguarded from the disease. We need to have adequate supply of personal protective gear so that healthcare staff are protected.-Times Of India