Update Epidemic Act, bring law to control private hospitals: Parliamentary Panel on Covid-19 management

The panel also emphasised the need for having proper data on migrant labourers
Last Updated 21 December 2020, 12:12 IST

Updating the Epidemic Diseases Act framed even before the Spanish Flu of 1918, a national plan of Centre-state coordination and a law that keeps a check on private hospitals that looks at maximising profits during a pandemic are among a slew of measures recommended by a Parliamentary Standing Committee that reviewed the Covid-19 management in the country.

The multi-party Parliamentary Standing Committee, headed by senior Congress MP Anand Sharma, also said that the sudden imposition of lockdown resulted in "unprecedented disruptions” but acknowledged that the GDP has shown signs of recovery in Q2 after contraction of 23.9 per cent in Q1.

The panel also appeared to question the screening strategy adopted by the Centre in the beginning saying people who were flying into India from abroad were screened only for high temperature throughout March and no Covid-19 tests were done at airports.

It said asymptomatic patients as well as those who took medicines for controlling temperature and flew in could not be diagnosed at a time "when they could practically be the only source of infections" of Covid-19 in the country.

In its report on 'Management of Covid-19 Pandemic and Coordination with State Governments', the panel also emphasised the need for having proper data on migrant labourers and said the task of identifying the location and disbursing relief measures to them became "very difficult" as the Centre did not have any statistics at its disposal.

The panel was also of the view that a national plan should be drawn up for coordination between the Centre and states for quick response to such a crisis in future and to avoid situations like the exodus of migrant workers.

Taking note of complaints against private hospitals, it advocated the need for a "comprehensive Public Health Act" at national level with provisions to keep "checks and controls" over private hospitals. It said that there were even reports of private hospitals selling beds.

"The (proposed) Act should also keep a check on the black marketing of medicines and product standardisation,” it said adding that people should be made aware of cheaper medicines so that they do not panic and spend a huge amount of money on expensive drugs.

Observing the disproportionate availability of ICU beds in private and public hospitals, it said the largest share of the burden of extending comprehensive healthcare has been borne by the Government hospitals as private hospitals were either "inaccessible or not affordable".

Emphasising that the pandemic "may stay for a longer period", the panel said that a pandemic differed from a disaster and the Disaster Management Act is not the best suitable law to deal with the situation, though its provision "helped in timely interventions and response" during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The panel said it is "difficult to predict" the characteristics of the new agents that may cause "future pandemics of this size or even worse than before".

Though the Epidemic Diseases Act has helped in managing Covid-19, the panel said that it is an "outdated" law framed in the colonial-era even before the Spanish Flu of 1918. The Act should be “revisited, updated and amended so that it is fully equipped to respond to the challenges posed by the unanticipated onset of pandemic/epidemic in the future," it said.

Good quality and affordable medicines should be provided to everyone, especially at a cheaper or subsidised rate to the marginalised sections of the society, especially at the time of pandemic like Covid-19, it added.

(Published 21 December 2020, 11:33 IST)

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