Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday expressed his concern over the high fatality rate among COVID-19 patients in some districts of Maharashtra and Gujarat and asked the states to focus on early surveillance, aggressive contact tracing and early diagnosis to reduce the number of deaths.
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, Mr 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 it 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 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.
The minister stressed on aggressive behavioural change and communication exercise to remove the stigma against reporting coronavirus cases to ensure timely reporting, clinical management and reduction in fatality rates. "This shall also lead to people reporting early for diagnosis and treatment," he said.
In view of Gujarat and Maharashtra reporting larger number of coronavirus deaths and cases, Mr Vardhan suggested that along with the surveillance teams in containment areas, community volunteers, at the ward-levels, should be identified to spread awareness about the preventive measures like hand washing and physical distancing. Some districts such as Aurangabad and Pune have done this, he said.
The minister urged the states to ensure that people over 65 years, with any non-communicable disease, are screened on priority at 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.
"A single mobile number - 9115444155 - can be dialed from anywhere in the country by doctors treating COVID-19 patients to reach out to 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.