‘Chandigarh needs a parallel private healthcare system’
Dr G Dewan, director, health and family welfare, who retires next week after 35 years of service, spoke to Amanjeet Singh Salyal on Saturday about the challenges thrown up by the Covid-19 outbreak, non-communicable diseases in the city, and his career with the UT health department. Excerpts:
How has the health infrastructure in Chandigarh evolved since you joined as a medical officer in 1985?
When I joined services in Chandigarh the population was around 3.5 lakh. It’s now estimated at 12 lakh. Thus, there’s need for creating more public health infrastructure as well as services. The Government Medical College (GMCH) came into existence in the late ’90s. Earlier, there was less influx of patients as well as the population from the adjoining states in the UT. The General Hospital in Sector 16 has been upgraded to a multispecialty unit (GMSH). Other healthcare facilities have been upgraded too.
It’s felt in the medical fraternity that while the three UT run hospitals are underutilised, PGIMER is overloaded. Your take?
You cannot compare apples with bananas. PGIMER is a top-tertiary care hospital with huge responsibility, infrastructure, and workforce. We, too, have our role to play. There is equal burden on every hospital.
How have GMSH-16 and GMCH-32 kept pace with new standards in patient care?
Upgrading the health sector will always remain a challenge as new technology comes up every day. You have to upgrade it on a timely basis. This in turn helps set a benchmark for keeping up patient care standards. We keep hearing about novel procedures being conducted in UT run hospitals. These are great achievements.
What changes in disease patterns and patient loads have you seen as health administrator?
Earlier the burden of waterborne diseases was huge. We have improved, but new challenges have emerged in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. We have a huge burden of diabetes in the city. We will have to set up a system to study the patterns of disease and work out how our education and information systems have to be developed for intervention. This will help in the treatment of dengue and Covid-19.
Unlike Mohali and Panchkula, Chandigarh does not have private healthcare providers of repute? Is that required?
Yes, we need a parallel private healthcare system. Though there are issues regarding availability of land and viability of that industry, it has to be looked at. But, I feel that the public health sector cannot provide top-class living facilities that few patients want.
Priority areas of the government health sector in Chandigarh?
We need to rethink the model of healthcare delivery through aggressive preventive medical care. The importance of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme has increased manifold. We need to strengthen it to understand the epidemiology of diseases. Outbreaks in future have to be contained quickly.
Chandigarh is the country’s best planned city, yet it saw widespread Covid-19 infections. Were there any missteps?
I disagree. You cannot treat Chandigarh as an isolated city even if it is planned. We have huge mobility of persons from Chandigarh to the tricity suburbs. The number of infections started to increase as the lockdown restrictions were lifted in phases. However, we have kept infection numbers in check and are seeing a gradual decrease. The ratio of fatalities is less or equal to that of neighbouring states and less than the national average. Our goal is to bring it below 1% from 1.3%.
How do you reflect upon your career since 1985?
I served in eight different positions in the Chandigarh administration and the municipal corporation during my tenure. I am happy to share that I have ideated in many innovations in the department that focused on improving health indicators.
Your post-retirement plans?
After the delightful privilege of serving my city, I am passing on the baton to the new generation with a lot of confidence and assurance. This gives me a chance to spend more time with my family and also take up social welfare work in the field of education and health through new forums.