16 million Covid-19 warriors lead virus battle
From March to June this year, nurse Bimlesh Kain, 57, woke up every morning at 5am and travelled 30km from her home in Rohini to report to work at the Delhi government-run Lok Nayak Hospital by 8.30am. Dressed in personal protective gear (PPEs), Kain was at the nurse’s station in the hospital’s Covid-19 ward for a nearly 11-hour shift. That was her life for much of those months.
“I started work in the Covid-19 department in March when the Covid-19 roster had been formulated, and was on active Covid-19 duty till June. It was a gruelling experience,” she says. Kain is currently in isolation after being diagnosed with Covid-19, and is awaiting her next posting in another government hospital.
Kain is also one of India’s Covid-19 warriors, as they are termed, a force of health workers, ASHA and Anganwadi workers volunteers, and people from fire departments, whose number is now close to 16 million (15.89) according to a database maintained by the IT ministry of the Union government. It’s a number that’s increased since April, when there were 11 million Covid warriors -- with more being drafted in to help India and Indians combat a viral disease for which there is still no vaccine, although health workers have progressively become better at saving lives. The disease, first recorded in India on January 30 in a Kerala student, has infected 8,764,826 people across the country since, killing 129,129.
But 8,154,463 of those infected have recovered, with many not requiring hospitalistion, and India’s case fatality rate of 1.48% compares well with the world’s 2.44% -- a statistic in which Covid-19 warriors such as Kain can take pride. According to details available on covidwarriors.gov.in, these overall numbers include around 900,000 doctors, 150,000 MBBS students, 1.75 million nurses, 1.12 million pharmacists, 830,000 Ayurvedic doctors, 3.5 million ASHA and Anganwadi workers, 3.5 million members of the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (a voluntary grass-roots youth organisation), and 2.5 million members of the National Service Scheme, another voluntary student organisation.
While the role of the doctors, nurses and pharmacists is clear, the others perform critical tasks such as supervising quarantine facilities, helping with contact tracing, even monitoring lockdown restrictions. ASHA and Anganwadi workers in particular are at the frontline of the state’s war against the virus in rural areas.
“Covid-19 warriors have different roles in the larger scheme of Covid-19 management, like we call warriors even those patients who have recovered from the disease and are now volunteering to generate awareness about the disease, the need for testing and Covid-19 appropriate behaviour, among other things. States are making use of these people. Then there are frontline workers, members of civil defence, NGOs, etc, that are also our corona warriors,” said a health ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous.
“Then there are ASHA workers who contribute towards disease surveillance, especially in containment zones in many states by making door-to-door visits, mapping houses for high-risk cases,” the official added.
Around 1.36 million Covid-19 warriors have undergone training on the Integrated Government Online Training (iGOT) platform.
The platform is an inter-ministerial collaboration, and individual ministries can upload content on the website according to their individual requirements.
“There are web modules created to teach, for example, bio medical waste management, how to dispose of personal protection equipment, infection control and hygiene practices, etc. These have been created in a quick, easy-to-learn format,” said a senior government official who asked not to be named.
The Covid-19 warrior dashboard itself comes under the purview of one of the empowered groups set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March to combat Covid-19. No such database was previously available. The dashboard is developed and maintained by the National Informatics Centre under the ministry of information and technology.
Experts said it always helps to have an exact idea of the human resource at hand .
“In an outbreak situation it is a good idea to have a comprehensive list of trained manpower that can be utilised based on the requirement of a state,” says Dr MC Misra, former director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi.