Covid-19 crisis: States asked to fill 227 vacancies for epidemiologists

Updated on Apr 10, 2020 04:11 PM IST

Ten states – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Haryana, Mizoram, Tripura, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana – and Delhi don’t even have a state-level epidemiologist.

The Centre has now written to the states to fill these vacancies to ensure the availability of “qualified human resources” during the Covid-19 pandemic(Pratham Gokhale/HT file photo. Representative image)
The Centre has now written to the states to fill these vacancies to ensure the availability of “qualified human resources” during the Covid-19 pandemic(Pratham Gokhale/HT file photo. Representative image)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByDeeksha Bhardwaj

There are 227 vacancies for epidemiologists, who track disease outbreaks, across all states and union territories as the country battles the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ten states – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Haryana, Mizoram, Tripura, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana – and Delhi don’t even have a state-level epidemiologist.

The Centre has now written to the states to fill these vacancies to ensure the availability of “qualified human resources” during the Covid-19 pandemic. A letter issued by the Union health ministry on April 7 directed states to fill a total of 382 vacancies under the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP).

Of these vacancies, the maximum are for epidemiologists, who study patterns of frequency and causes and effects of diseases. The other vacant posts are those of data managers, veterinarians, financial consultants and microbiologists.

The need to fill these vacancies was raised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a virtual meeting with chief ministers on April 3, according to the letter issued by the health ministry and accessed by Hindustan Times. The vacancies for epidemiologists and others should be filled to ensure “surveillance activities of Covid-19”, the letter states.

An epidemiology professor, who didn’t want to be named, said that ideally, every district under the IDSP should have at least one epidemiologist and there should be one state-level epidemiologist. According to data from census 2011, there are 640 districts.

The letter states the highest number of vacancies are in Telangana (26), Bihar and Chhattisgarh (21 each), Madhya Pradesh (20) and Delhi, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir (11 each).

“As we know, the entire health team in all the States/UTs is putting all their efforts in the effective containment and management of COVID-19. Availability of Qualified Human Resources at required places is a critical element in the effective management of pandemics like COVID-19,” the letter said.

“In the wake of the present COVID situation, it is essential to fill up the IDSP (lntegrated Disease Surveillance Programme) positions especially the Epidemiologist in all the District and State Units of IDSP in your States,” it added.

IDSP was launched in 2004 to train state and district surveillance officers, rapid response teams and other medical and paramedical staff on principles of disease surveillance.

The mission, according to IDSP’s website, is to strengthen disease surveillance by establishing a decentralised state-based surveillance system for epidemic prone diseases and to detect early warning signals, so that timely and effective actions can be initiated to respond to health challenges at the district, state and national levels.

Currently, there are teams working on vector-borne diseases and HIV, the professor cited above said.

The letter further states that any epidemiologists trained by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), working in other divisions of health departments, should be immediately deployed for Covid-19 surveillance.

The Central government has asked state governments to offer a salary on “war footing” and use agencies empanelled under the National Health Mission to fill the vacancies. States can also redeploy existing “human resources working in other programmes and departments”.

“This is an extremely important step,” said Jagat Ram, the director of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh.

“Even if we eliminate coronavirus from clusters and the country, there is still a possibility of isolated cases coming up. We need people to consistently track any possible contact cases that may spring up, not just for the present, but the future.”

Ram said the 100% elimination of the Coronavirus will be very difficult.

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