Harsh Vardhan thanks Rotary India for help during the pandemic

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, on a web conference with senior Rotary leaders and Rotarians across the country, thanked Rotary for the commendable work they have done across India in providing relief to people hit hard by the corona pandemic.

“You have collected ₹26 crore for the PM CARES Fund and your other contributions such as provision of critical hospital equipment, sanitisers, cooked meals and foodgrain packets, etc, totalling ₹75 crore, is really praiseworthy,” he said.

From L: Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, RIPN Shekhar Mehta, RID Bharat Pandya, PDG Nancy Barbee and RID Kamal Sanghvi at the Centennial Summit, Kolkata.
From L: Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, RIPN Shekhar Mehta, RID Bharat Pandya, PDG Nancy Barbee and RID Kamal Sanghvi at the Centennial Summit, Kolkata.

The minister explained in detail the alacrity and the war-footing on which the GoI, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and various high-power committees set about the task of controlling the corona pandemic. A group of Ministers (Health, Aviation, Shipping, Home Affairs, External Affairs), headed by Vardhan as the Health Minister, had met by mid-April as many as 12 times since Feb 3. Eleven Empowered Groups headed by Secretaries/Member, NITI Aayog, were set up to review the situation.

Under his leadership, a high-level committee of experts was set up, and regular video conferences were held with Health Secretaries of all States and relevant Central Ministries as early as Jan 27, he added.

He was also in touch with both the chief ministers and health ministers of various States, and also made a round of the Delhi airport, quarantine centres, hospitals to check field level implementation.

Harsh Vardhan reiterated that the GoI was quick enough to respond as early as Jan 8, even though WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic only on Jan 30. The States were asked by the Centre to initiate “health sector preparedness on Jan 17; the point of entry surveillance was initiated from Jan 17, 2020, itself at all airports. We have been pro-active, pre-emptive and maintained inter-ministerial coordination as key focus areas,” he said.

As part of the huge preparations to deal with this pandemic, airport and port staff were trained, hospitals for treating those infected were identified, traditional and social media were involved in disseminating safety messages, precautions to take, maintaining social distancing and who to contact where symptoms were seen. Special training sessions were held on the usage of ventilators.

“Even though we have ordered 55,000 more ventilators, I would like to tell you that less than one per cent of the infected persons need to be put on ventilators,” said the Minister.

Air, ship and land borders were quickly sealed, all their staff adequately trained to screen arrivals, Quarantine Medical Teams oriented on patient management and infection prevention and control. Dedicated Central teams inspected all airports, ports, etc from Jan 25.

The government also acted speedily in suspending all existing visas, except for certain essential groups, till April 15 and Visa-free facility to Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) was also suspended.

Community surveillance and health monitoring was done, advisories issued regularly to States, and testing strategies were put in place and by April 21, 4.38 lakh people had been tested.

Returning to the timely service and assistance rendered by Rotarians, the Minister added, “Your service rendered in eradicating polio cannot be described in words, and that too at a time when there was skepticism around the world and even India on covering every child under polio immunisation.”

The result of the work done by Rotarians in polio immunisation was that “we haven’t seen a single case of polio in the last nine years,” he added.

Briefing Harsh Vardhan on the work done by Indian Rotarians, RIPN Shekhar Mehta said that under the leadership of RI Directors Bharat Pandya and Kamal Sanghvi, and the district governors, Rotarians in India had, till April 20, distributed medical equipment worth over 30 crore, 2 lakh sanitisers, 75,000 units of PPEs, over 25 lakh meals, over 3,500 hours of mental health counseling, and the female skill development workers trained by Rotary were preparing thousands of masks.

“We wanted to raise ₹25 crore for PM CARES Fund, but already ₹26 crore has been raised, and Rotary India had done COVID- relief work worth 75 crore, which took the total (by April 21) to over 101 crore. He urged the Minister to keep in mind that all this had been done “by Rotarians by dipping into our own savings. For a corporate it might be easy to donate ₹500 crore… hats off to them of course for doing that, but also hats off to Indian Rotarians for doing all this by reaching into their own pockets.”

TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty said that TRF “has specially instituted a Disaster Response Grant to assist projects associated with relief work for disasters and right now there is no bigger disaster than the corona pandemic that the world is facing.” So the Trustees have decided that TRF should assist each one of the 540 districts that we have, and till now 180 districts worldwide have been given $25,000 each; the total comes to nearly ₹24 crore. In India 21 districts have been given this grant, and the total value is ₹4 crore.

Of the bigger grants or GGs, till now 11 GGs worth ₹7 crore have been sanctioned for donating ventilators and other equipment to hospitals.

Mehta urged Harsh Vardhan to get Prime Minister Modi for just 5 minutes for one such webcast and “I am certain this would convert the ₹101 crore of Rotary India’s contribution to COVID-19 relief to ₹125 crore in  no time.”

“Our vision for the next five years on the healthcare front is setting up 50 eye hospitals, 40 blood banks, 50 mobile clinics for mammography, eye testing/treatment, doing 25,000 paediatric heart surgeries, and health check up of 15 lakh people every year. All this work Rotarians would like to do with the Health Ministry under your leadership. You have worked with us before in Polio…. the bonhomie we have with the government in PolioPlus began only with you, and you are one of the biggest supporters of Rotary.  I know the passion you have on these issues and we Rotarians share a similar passion,” he added.

PRIP Rajendra Saboo praised the leadership provided by Vardhan in fighting the corona pandemic; “we are fortunate that at a difficult time like this you are our Health Minister.”

RI Director Bharat Pandya complimented the Minister for his “exemplary leadership” and said the Rotarians in India were with him in their belief that the most important asset a human being can have is “good health” and were engaged in a plethora of activities to help the government in tackling this pandemic, including a sizable contribution to the PM CARES Fund. He promised that as it has done over the years in getting India rid of polio, Rotarians will work shoulder to shoulder with the government during this pandemic too. “And once this crisis is behind us we will work with the GoI on other areas related to health, particularly in non-communicable diseases and look forward to your guidance and support.”

RI Director Kamal Sanghvi thanked the Health Minister for his time and encouragement, and all the Rotary leaders and Rotarians across the country for their generosity and hard work during a difficult time.

PDG Ranjan Dhingra welcomed the gathering.

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RI Director Bharat Pandya is Treasurer for Rotary International for 2020-21, when Holgar Knaack will be RI President, JohritaSolari will be the Vice President and Stephanie Urchick, the Executive Committee Chair.