Applauding the colossal work done by COVID warriors like doctors, paramedics, activists, non-government organisations (NGOs) and corporates, BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal says he would forever be grateful to the 'COVID Warriors'. He was speaking at a get-together of the members of a WhatsApp group, which was set up by Moneylife Foundation during the COVID pandemic to help more than 30 government hospitals mainly in Mumbai city, with urgent supplies of protective gear, when these were not easily available or only at exorbitant prices.
Several of the 60+ senior doctors as well as resident doctors present from Sion, Bhaba, JJ, Cama, Cooper, KEM, Rajawadi, Nair, Ackworth, St.George, HBT Trauma, Siddharth Postmortem Centre and many other government hospitals spoke about the need for using the experience of COVID to focus on public health including the improving the administrative decision-making.
Speaking about improving conditions in BMC-run hospitals across the city, the commissioner informed, "We are in discussion with one agency that runs housekeeping services in Manipal institutions...They run like a five-star hotel.
"Our pilot project with them would be one of the major hospitals in Mumbai where the entire housekeeping of a certain section will be taken over by the agency. If this experience works well, we will try to replicate this in other hospitals."
Mr Chahal said, "To us, COVID was like a war with an invisible enemy. I must say all the COVID warriors like doctors, nurses, police, ambulance drivers, and cleanliness workers, among others, were absolutely outstanding.I must congratulate and thank them. I shall forever remain indebted to the COVID warriors because when I look back, this was the most bright chapter in my life, made possible due to these warriors."
Academic, Prof. Ritu Diwan submitted that while it is true that battling COVID infection was like a war, a more appropriate term to use is saviours rather than warriors.
The WhatsApp group was started in April 2020 when Moneylife Foundation realised that hospitals and healthcare workers were facing a monumental challenge of finding supplies and that too at reasonable rates. "We felt if we could put the hospitals on a common platform, we would determine who needed what and from where we could source the right material," said Trustee Sucheta Dalal.
Starting with hunting for N95 masks at reasonable prices and procuring the right PPE (personal protective equipment), the group evolved to finding hospital beds or expensive drugs like Tocilizumab and Remdesvir and body bags. The group acted as a forum to share knowledge and experiences, post requests, deal with new challenges, and find solutions. The group, which included over 30 public and private hospitals as well as donors and healthcare professionals, also fought profiteering by medical suppliers through public interest litigation (PIL) and bureaucratic red-tape over who is allowed to buy PPEs.
Through the interaction, the group learned about the non-touch digital OPD designed by Dr Rangnath Jhawar. The Foundation then set up these digital OPDs in Sion Hospital, Nair, Cama, St George, JJ Hospital and Bhabha at Bandra with the help of generous donors. When hospitals struggled to get their bed-linen cleaned, someone in the group came up with the idea of disposable bed-sheets.
Among the doctors present in the get-together were: Dr Shivkumar Utture (president, Maharashtra Medical Council), Dr Akash Khobragade (dean, St George Hospital), Dr Vidya Mahale (deputy dean, Sion Hospital), Dr Sanjay Nagral (Jaslok Hospital), Dr Sheela Kerkar and Dr Prafulla Kerkar (Sion Hospital), Dr Rangnath Jawhar (HBT Trauma), Dr Henal Shah and Dr Nilesh Kalyankar (Nair Hospital), Dr Chhaya Shinde (Sion), Dr Maya Wankhade (Rajawadi Hospital), Dr Swati Rane (founder of Seva Shakti), Dr Rekha Bhatkhande (Dean, Sushrusha Hospital Vikroli), Dr Neela Patwardhan (Opthalmologist) and Anil Patwardhan (Cardiac surgeon), Dr Avinash Saknure (former MARD President), Dr. Rushab Chheda, Dr Vandana Dhaktode (IMA- Dombivli-Kalyan), Dr Geeta Ghag and Dr. Vinod Gite (Cooper Hospital), Dr Abhijeet Hosmani (Siddharth Postmortem Centre), Dr Harbans Singh Bava, Dr Sanchai, Dr Deepak Mundhe, Dr Akshay Yadav, Dr Rohan Metkari, Dr Prathmesh Patil (from Latur) and Dr Priyansh Nathani among others were present along with the Moneylife Foundation team that coordinated the relief work.
Several key donors including Narendra Murkumbi (former chairman Renuka Sugars), Ms Indira Jaisingh (former addl. solicitor general of India), AN Ramanujam (vice-president Cipla) were also present to felicitate the healthcare workers. Dr Sangita Hasnale, assistant municipal commissioner whose work in food distribution came in for much appreciation among the people, was also present. Her team worked closely with a helpline set up my Narendra Murkumbi's NGO.
The BMC commissioner was all praise for not just COVID warriors but also for Mumbai citizens.
Sharing one example of how sensible Mumbai citizens respond to appeals, Mr Chahal says, we decided to appeal to people not to burst crackers in Diwali. "Let us celebrate a firecracker-free Diwali this year to save Mumbaikars from a possible second wave of COVID-19. We all can jointly make this possible," he stated in his video appeal.
"Next morning, I received a message from an editor of the city's prominent daily saying that for the 476 square kms of Mumbai last evening was as silent as a classroom with examination going on." In contrast, in and around Delhi, firecrackers were burned at will, despite a ban.
Mr Chahal said that during the lock-down in April, BMC distributed close to 1.2mn (million) food packets per day and on some days it came down to around 125,000 packets a day in June. According to data from the BMC, it distributed around 37.6mn food packets during the lock-down. Peak per day supply went 720,000 food packets May-June 2020, which itself is a record of sorts, Mr Chahal informed.
Responding to a question, the BMC commissioner informed that Mumbai being one of the worst sufferers of the COVID-19 pandemic, the civic body has announced a health budget of Rs6,933.75 crore for fiscal 2022-23, which is 15.09% of the total budget, a sizeable jump from the Rs4,278 crore health budget outlay in 2021-22.