'Companies duty-bound to protect staff from COVID-19'

Companies duty-bound to protect employees from COVID-19 pandemic: K Sudhakar

 Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar. (DH Illustration)

Karnataka is gearing up to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The measures being put in place include ensuring that every district in the state has a hospital that is equipped to house and treat patients afflicted with the coronavirus, Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar tells DH’s Shruthi HM Sastry.  

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Q. You have announced that the teaching hospitals will be prepared to combat COVID-19. What does this entail?

A. In Italy and Spain, they neglected the contagion in the initial stages, thinking of cases as stray incidents. I want Karnataka to be well-prepared so that we do not cross Stage 2 of the outbreak. The outbreak has many stages and, at the moment, the cases we are seeing are between Stage 1 and 2. The idea is to prepare the 17 government medical colleges in 17 districts of the state to act as special ‘war zones’ for combating COVID-19. Bengaluru should not be the only centre for people to seek medical help. We should be able to address this at the district-level. For this, we need to equip district hospitals with adequate isolation wards, ventilators and manpower. I also had a meeting with private colleges to reach out to the other 13 districts of the state. We want to rope in private colleges in addition to the district hospitals.

Q. You have also announced setting up of new labs. When are they likely to start functioning?

A. We want to ensure that everything is ready within the next fortnight. On an average, we want to keep aside 150-200 beds (in each medical institution) for COVID-19, to quarantine people. We don't mind if we have excess capacity, but we do not want a dearth of it.

Q. While the government wants to put in place elaborate precautionary measures, many hospitals are grappling with staff shortages. Will you bring on board new staff to tackle the crisis?

A. Yes, the government will bring in more people. I have asked for a proposal from the directors of the respective medical colleges. They will submit proposals to the Director of Medical Education, based on which we will bring in more professionals by way of outsourcing, for a period of 2-3 months.

Q. Does the government have adequate funds to battle the epidemic?

A. The Government of India has already categorised this as an emergency distress. They are likely to allocate money for the same. The state government has released Rs 14 crore to buy masks and other equipment. We have funds of medical colleges, too. The chief minister has also said that there is adequate money for all the preventive measures to be put in place.

Q. There have been concerns raised about inadequate infrastructure and lack of hygiene at Akash Hospital. Has this come to your notice? What measures will you take?

A. I have heard that there are some issues pertaining to water supply and inadequate toilet infrastructure. We will fix these issues. From a larger point of view, the good thing about hospitals like Akash, which has a medical college and is in the city's periphery, is that they are ideal for isolation. Similarly, we also have MVJ Medical College and East Point Medical College. In addition, we are also making use of Armed Forces hospitals.

Q. From homemade remedies for ‘prevention’ and ‘cure’ of COVID-19 to private entities claiming alternative medication for the same, there is much misinformation and panic in the society. Isn’t there a need for more awareness drives?

A. I want to appeal to people to not believe in rumours. Misinformation, rumour, myth, stigma and panic are what we should be avoiding at any cost. There is no proven alternative medication or food item for treating the disease. There are myths about the spreading of the disease based on weather conditions, too. All these are just viewpoints with no scientific proof. The key to curbing the epidemic is social distancing – keep at least 3 ft from each other. Beyond this, if there is any update about either prevention or cure, unless it comes from me or the health minister, or the Union Health Ministry, it is just a rumour. We are passing through an unpredictable situation and we need to understand the gravity of it.

Q. What measures are being taken to ensure the safety of doctors and medical students who are exposing themselves to victims?

A. They are vulnerable, no doubt. We are giving them PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) kits. In addition, I want to ensure that we recognise and reward such staff for their brave work during the crisis. With adequate precautions, they are safe.

Q. Despite the government advisory, not all companies have taken the work-from-home direction seriously. Will the government issue a mandate to such companies?

A. The chief minister has already given specific directions. I hope wisdom prevails on everybody. It should not become about abiding by the law. Every company is duty-bound to ensure the safety of their employees.

Q. Two ministers are handling the Covid-19 crisis and there is criticism about lack of coordination between you and Health Minister B Sriramulu. Is there a concern to be addressed here?

A. There is perfect coordination between Sriramulu and me. One could say, we are like Rama and Lakshmana. Being a doctor, I may be more visible. However, he is a senior politician with a lot of experience. We discuss and implement, in a synchronised manner. Political opponents need not bother about this. I request them not to politicise the issue.

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