Amid power outages, rural Maharashtra looks for alternatives
With only a few days left for the mass immunisation process against Covid-19, health activists and social workers have raised concerns about the frequent occurrences of load shedding in rural Maharashtra. However, state authorities claimed that they are finding alternatives to ensure uninterrupted power supply to vaccine centres.
“Maintaining the cold chain of the vaccine will be a real struggle for authorities. To reach the grass-root level, the health department has to rely on primary health centres. However, many don’t have reliable electricity supply,” said health activist Dr Abhijit More.
During the vaccination process, the health department will rely heavily on electronics for data maintenance on the Co-WIN app to get the details of the beneficiaries. “It’s quite impressive that the government has developed a centralised system to maintain all the data, but they will need uninterrupted flow of electricity to charge the electronics,” said Sudhir Tupe from Lokkalyan Charitable Trust, a non-governmental organisation in Satara.
While replying to a question asked by Lok Sabha member Janardan Singh Sigriwal on the floor of the house on November 22, 2019, Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan shared data of the infrastructure of the primary health centres (PHC) across the country. According to the data, Maharashtra has 1,823 functional PHCs, of which, 1.9% (35) centres did not have electricity. The data also showed that 19% of the centres did not have computers, and almost 32% centres are without telephones.
District health officers (DHOs) however, said they are taking several steps to ensure electricity supply is not affected. “We have directed the power board to ensure uninterrupted flow of electricity at the vaccination centres. We also installed additional generators in case of power outage for long hours. To ensure the generators run for long, we have kept extra petrol ready,” said Dr GG Paraghe, district health officer, Latur.
Districts such as Gadchiroli are keeping their solar power system ready as an alternative in case of an electricity crisis. “Recently, we serviced the whole system and have kept it on stand-by,” said Dr SC Shanbharkar, DHO, Gadchiroli.
Health officials believe power outages are unlikely to be a problem as the vaccine freezers can maintain the required temperature for a maximum of 72 hours without electricity. “All rural and district hospitals have the infrastructure to preserve the vaccines. So we won’t have a problem even if there are power cuts,” said state immunisation officer Dr D Patil.
“Unlike Pfizer, which requires a minus 70 degree Celsius storage facility, both the vaccines (Covishield and Covaxin) can be stored in 2-8 degree Celsius. All rural and district hospitals have the infrastructure to preserve the vaccines which are being used under the immunisation programme for years. So, we won't have a problem even if some hospitals face power cuts,” said state immunisation officer Dr D Patil.
District health officials said they will formulate further plans once the immunisation programme reaches the second level, where primary health centres will be included as vaccination points.
“As the drive reaches the second stage where the number of beneficiaries will be larger, we will formulate more detailed plans to address the issue of power shortages focusing on the PHCs. We will mostly hold a meeting next week over the issue,” said Dr Ajay Dahale, DHO, Wardha.
The state health department has been working for months to channelise the vaccination process in the state. In the first phase, around 7.72 lakh healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) and anganwadi workers will be vaccinated at rural and district hospitals.