A long haul, spend wisely, but don’t skimp on the truly needy
GS Paper II
Topic: Social sector-health and livelihood
Mains: Rice ATMs
What’s the News?
As it becomes clear that the lockdown will go on for quite a while, in a total or a more localized version, the biggest worry is that a huge number of people will be pushed into dire poverty or even starvation by the combination of the loss of their livelihoods and interruptions in the standard delivery mechanisms.
Expanding PDS to tackle starvation:
- Government should use every means at its disposal to make sure that no one is starving. This means expanding the PDS and setting up public canteens for migrants and others who are away from home
- Sending the equivalent of the school meal to the homes of the children who are now stuck at home, and
- Making use of reputed local NGOs that often have a reach among the most marginalized that exceeds that of the government.
For Instance: Vietnam-Rice ATMs
- Vietnam has 265 cases of the novel coronavirus and zero deaths, numbers that are significantly lower than the rest of the world.
- But still, to prevent further spread, the government has enforced social distancing, effectively shutting down many small businesses and leaving thousands out of work.
- For these people who are suddenly without income, businessmen and donors have set up machines that dispense free rice at several cities across Vietnam.
- Rice contained in a large water tank pours out into residents’ bags from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
- Those waiting in line are required to stand six feet apart from each other and they must use hand sanitizer before receiving their rice.
- Farmers need money to buy seeds and fertilizer for the next planting season;
- Shopkeepers need to decide how they will fill their shelves again; many others have to worry how they would repay the loan that is already due.
- There is no reason why, as a society, we should ignore these concerns.
- The government has partly recognized this in the cash transfers it has promised to certain groups; but the amounts are both small and narrowly targeted.
- Landless labourers and urban poor should also be included and it should be made inclusive.
- P Chidambaram’s idea of using the MGNREGA rolls from 2019, plus those covered by Jan Arogya and Ujjwala to identify the poor households and to send them 5000 rupees each to their Jan Dhan accounts, seems like a good first step.
Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) is a mega National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) for poor people. PMJAY will provide Rs. 5 Lakh health insurance for secondary and tertiary hospitalization.
JAM trinity refers to the government of India initiative to link Jan Dhan accounts, Mobile numbers and Aadhar cards of Indians to plug the leakages of government subsidies.
- Therefore, as a part of the commitment to not miss the needy, there has to be funding available that state and local governments can use to find effective ways to reach those who suffer from extreme deprivation.
- We need to spend wisely given the enormous likely demand for fiscal resources in the coming months, but skimping on helping the truly needy is the surest way to lose the plot.
GS Paper III
Topic: International Organization
Mains: Role of WHO in controlling Covid-19
What’s the News?
- At a time when the world is fighting its worst pandemic in decades, World health organization (WHO) has been caught in the crossfire of an unseemly battle between its two leading powers.
- After fulminating against the WHO for weeks for being “Beijing-centric” and accusing it of failing to do enough to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading after it first surfaced in China, US President announced that he is cutting off funds to the global health body.
- Funding would be on hold for 60 to 90 days pending a review of the WHO’s warnings about the coronavirus and China.
- US funds are likely to go to other international health outfits. No other health agency, however, can match the WHO in reach and credibility.
Role of WHO:
- The WHO has guided the immunisation programmes in several countries, including India;
- It has been at the forefront of the fight against several diseases, with notable successes such as eradicating smallpox globally and eliminating polio in several parts of the world;
- It has helped draw up agendas on mental health and persuaded its members to sign landmark conventions on tobacco-control.
- In the past three decades, the WHO has helped nations frame strategies during outbreaks such as Zika, Ebola and HIV/AIDS.
- The agency’s role in developing a vaccine against Ebola, in fact, illuminates one of its key advantages – no other health outfit can bring together scientists, industry, regulators and governments during a public health emergency as rapidly as the WHO.
The global agency’s decades-long work in low and middle-income countries and its robust understanding of a variety of cultural contexts mean that an empowered WHO holds the key to protecting the interests of the poor and most vulnerable countries during the pandemic.
- In a globalised world, pathogens such as viruses and bacteria cannot be contained within national borders. But the coronavirus pandemic seems to have exacerbated isolationist tendencies in the world.
- Information sharing between nations has not always been adequate and countries have often resorted to unfair trade practices with respect to scarce resources such as personal protection equipment.
- In such a situation, the WHO has often been the sobering voice, calling for international solidarity. Even as they need to question it sometimes, nations need to add their weight to the global health agency’s voice – not undermine it in a critical time.
The pandemic and the contours of a health response
GS Paper III
Topic: Science and technology
Mains: Strategy to fight with corona virus
What’s the News?
- India is facing the worst public health crisis in its independent history which pales the earlier ones such as AIDS, SARS and H1N1 into insignificance.
- A measured approach with community participation will aid the fight against the virus.
Challenge posed by virus:
- The speed at which the virus entered the country and the multiple challenges it has posed before the people and the government are unprecedented.
- While the initial response of the government was quick in restricting the entry and the quarantine of travellers from China and other South East Asian countries, the subsequent wave of international travellers has completely caught everyone off guard.
- While the lockdown has confined the pool of infected persons to their homes, the aftermath of the lockdown when they will start moving out will pose enormous challenges.
Focus on counseling:
- As the flood of patients starts increasing in hospitals, counselling services for patients and members of their families would be of utmost necessity.
- Large number of counsellors can be mobilised at short notice from existing national programmes and communities which have the necessary experience in counselling.
- Trained counsellors in care centres and hospitals can relieve the huge pressure on doctors and nursing staff and will make a huge difference to the quality of care to infected persons.
Role of local communities:
- Local communities are best suited to provide support to the families of infected persons and ensure that they are not stigmatised in the locality or neighbourhood.
- In metropolitan cities, resident welfare associations and mohalla committees can play a very proactive role in addressing this need.
- In the smaller towns and villages, the district administration can mobilise local communities to provide supporting services.
- A critical gap in the level of response is the limited testing facilities available for people to know their COVID-19 status.
- Current testing procedures which depend on viral tests are expensive and time consuming.
- Rapid test kits can only act as a supplementary test as it gives quick result however it can give wrong results as well.
Issue of Migrants:
- Large-scale migration of daily wage earners and construction workers from metropolitan cities, in the aftermath of the lockdown, has resulted in enormous challenges for the administration.
- Providing shelters and protecting them from loss of employment is a socioeconomic problem, where community involvement can ensure that the benefits governments are announcing actually reach the needy and those who deserve them.
- Community-based organisations should also help in mobilising Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, funds for mitigating the misery migrant families now face and for no fault of theirs.
- It is a novel virus and people have no immunity to protect themselves. Prevention, care and support are the only strategies that will succeed in mitigating the crisis.
- This will need a carefully planned public health approach which identifies the risks based on evidence and pro-actively intervenes to mitigate them.
- The foremost task is to identify people and the households of those who returned from abroad in the last two months and who have turned symptomatic.
- They need to be immediately quarantined either in their homes or in community care centres identified by the State and district authorities.
- Civil society should be invited to be partners in organising the care centres and managing them. Only the serious cases among them should be referred to hospitals for treatment.
- The intermediate step of quarantine will check a huge rush of patients even with minor symptoms to hospitals, choking health-care facilities and depriving the more serious and needy cases of emergency medical care.
- To supplement this effort, large-scale supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) including gloves and face masks would become necessary. Community organisations can be mobilised to procure and supply such equipment to complement government efforts.
- Ventilator demand will also go up very soon and advance planning for emergency procurement would be necessary.
- The fight against COVID-19 can only be won when we get a preventive vaccine or a therapeutic drug on hand. Until then, the threat of the virus returning when conditions are conducive to its spread cannot be ruled out.
- Only a measured public health approach with community participation will help the government in ensuring a sustained response to stem its tide.
- Central and State Governments should plan to adopt a public health approach to address the situation and use days ahead to ready with the strategy and tools for rolling it out.
‘’India is facing the worst public health crisis in its independent history and a measured approach with community participation will aid the fight against the virus.’’ In the light of this statement discuss the role of community participation to address the challenge posed by the covid-19 virus.
Blue skies and cleaner air
GS Paper III
Topic: Environment and Ecology
Mains: Relation between covid-19 and improved environment
What’s the News?
Amid the gloom of the daily assault on our society by the coronavirus and the lockdown against it, one silver lining along our collective clouds has been impossible to miss — the bright blue skies and cleaner air.
Improved Air Quality Index:
- The national capital region — which, on average, sees most of the days in a year in the poor to severe category on the national Air Quality Index — has witnessed something akin to a miracle.
- With the lockdown in effect, and construction, industrial and vehicular activity down to a crawl, the capital has been experiencing record levels of clean air.
- The AQI levels in the city have dropped to scarcely believable levels. It has been refreshing to see the AQI below 30 on most days.
Reduced pollution level:
- On March 21, the Central Board of Pollution Control pointed out that it registered whopping reductions in PM 10 levels (-44 per cent), PM2.5 (-34 per cent) and Nitrogen Oxide (-51 per cent). The following week, with the lockdown, saw a 71 per cent plunge in all these indicators.
- The Yamuna, in the space of a few days, has cleaned up and the toxic foams have disappeared.
- Initial research by Harvard’s T H Chan School of Public Health has suggested that there could be a correlation between air pollution and the lethality of COVID-19.
- Through their findings, based on data from nearly 3,000 counties in the US, the researchers have pointed out that a marginal increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 could contribute to a higher fatality rate among those affected with coronavirus.
- The study showed that counties that registered on average as little as one microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5 more than their counterparts had a COVID fatality rate that was 15 per cent higher.
- This trajectory mirrors a 2003 study by the University of California which found that the impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China was more fatal in parts of the country that suffered from poor air quality.
- India’s situation is horrific in this regard. A study conducted by the Kolkata-based Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI) found that the key indicators of respiratory health and lung function of school children in Delhi between four and 17 years of age were markedly worse than their counterparts elsewhere.
- Indeed, the figures were twice to four times as bad for children in Delhi than in other places, and were not reversible.
- We must not lapse into inaction when the lockdown is lifted and the silent killer of poor air quality resurfaces.
- The COVID crisis has prompted many of us to vow to fight for greater emphasis on public health in our country, which currently devotes only a woeful 1.28 per cent of GDP to keeping Indians healthy.
- Not only does this not undermine our need to grow the economy, it is essential to strengthen our economy instead. Because the engine of growth is the Indian workforce, and an unhealthy and vulnerable workforce will not generate the growth we need.
Let’s defeat COVID, and let’s also make cleaner air an indispensable part of our defence against the next deadly contagion.