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WHO chief scientist calls for health infrastructure boost

By ARINDAM GUPTA
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SILCHAR, July 22 - Amid unabated escalation of COVID-19 cases in the country and also across the globe, World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan has said possibilities are there that the virus may trickle down to rural areas for which the health infrastructure needs to be given major fillip.

In an exclusive interview with The Assam Tribune, Dr Swaminathan said that globally the COVID-19 infection is accelerating. �We had one million cases in three months initially, whereas now we are witnessing a spike of one million cases almost every week. In India, the cases are rising despite actions taken by the government. Different parts of the country are experiencing different stages of virus infection,� she said.

�The COVID-19 started spreading in big cities mainly because of people travelling within and from abroad, and it has fast spread across other cities. It is possible, we might see the virus penetrate to rural areas as well, increasing the infection rate. Hence, the government and people need to rise to the situation and work in cohesion. The health infrastructure needs a fillip,� she said.

According to Dr Swaminathan, around 96-97 per cent of the people with mild or moderate symptoms will recover. �However, three to four per cent of the affected might need intensive care and around 10-15 per cent of the affected cases might need oxygen support for which hospitals, even at the district levels in the country, have to be readied with adequate facilities along with sufficient availability of PPE, testing equipment and importantly oxygen support,� she added.

Dr Swaminathan said doctors and nurses, and paramedics have gone well beyond their call of duty. �Efforts must be taken to bring in more people on short term contractual basis to meet the demands in health care services so that the resources do not burn out. The workforce element need to be looked at with priority under the circumstances. There is a need to have field workers to track people infected with the virus and ensure that they are in quarantine,� she stressed.

Asked whether novel coronavirus could be airborne, the WHO chief scientist said, � we need to be clear that by airborne, it does not mean that the virus is roaming free for a long time in the air and anyone might be infected. The virus spreads through close human contacts and the airborne quotient comes to affect only in conditions when there are more people within confined locations or close proximity like dormitories, factories or restaurants with lack of proper ventilation and air circulation.�

The droplets from people carrying the virus might stay in the air for some time and may infect those who are staying or working for longer hours even beyond the three feet distance in such locations, she said, reiterating the need for wearing facecovers and handwashing as vital for keeping the virus at bay, besides maintaining the basic principles of identifying the contacts of the positive cases, isolating them and precaution by masses as absolutely necessary to prevent the spread.

Replying to a question on the status of vaccine for COVID-19, Dr Swaminathan said various countries, including India, are conducting phase-wise human trials and the conclusive results are likely to come in the next six-nine months. Referring to the efforts by the WHO to facilitate scientists and researchers, she maintained that in such a crucial circumstance, global collaboration and cohesion is the need of the hour to come out of the crisis posed by the pandemic.

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WHO chief scientist calls for health infrastructure boost

SILCHAR, July 22 - Amid unabated escalation of COVID-19 cases in the country and also across the globe, World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan has said possibilities are there that the virus may trickle down to rural areas for which the health infrastructure needs to be given major fillip.

In an exclusive interview with The Assam Tribune, Dr Swaminathan said that globally the COVID-19 infection is accelerating. �We had one million cases in three months initially, whereas now we are witnessing a spike of one million cases almost every week. In India, the cases are rising despite actions taken by the government. Different parts of the country are experiencing different stages of virus infection,� she said.

�The COVID-19 started spreading in big cities mainly because of people travelling within and from abroad, and it has fast spread across other cities. It is possible, we might see the virus penetrate to rural areas as well, increasing the infection rate. Hence, the government and people need to rise to the situation and work in cohesion. The health infrastructure needs a fillip,� she said.

According to Dr Swaminathan, around 96-97 per cent of the people with mild or moderate symptoms will recover. �However, three to four per cent of the affected might need intensive care and around 10-15 per cent of the affected cases might need oxygen support for which hospitals, even at the district levels in the country, have to be readied with adequate facilities along with sufficient availability of PPE, testing equipment and importantly oxygen support,� she added.

Dr Swaminathan said doctors and nurses, and paramedics have gone well beyond their call of duty. �Efforts must be taken to bring in more people on short term contractual basis to meet the demands in health care services so that the resources do not burn out. The workforce element need to be looked at with priority under the circumstances. There is a need to have field workers to track people infected with the virus and ensure that they are in quarantine,� she stressed.

Asked whether novel coronavirus could be airborne, the WHO chief scientist said, � we need to be clear that by airborne, it does not mean that the virus is roaming free for a long time in the air and anyone might be infected. The virus spreads through close human contacts and the airborne quotient comes to affect only in conditions when there are more people within confined locations or close proximity like dormitories, factories or restaurants with lack of proper ventilation and air circulation.�

The droplets from people carrying the virus might stay in the air for some time and may infect those who are staying or working for longer hours even beyond the three feet distance in such locations, she said, reiterating the need for wearing facecovers and handwashing as vital for keeping the virus at bay, besides maintaining the basic principles of identifying the contacts of the positive cases, isolating them and precaution by masses as absolutely necessary to prevent the spread.

Replying to a question on the status of vaccine for COVID-19, Dr Swaminathan said various countries, including India, are conducting phase-wise human trials and the conclusive results are likely to come in the next six-nine months. Referring to the efforts by the WHO to facilitate scientists and researchers, she maintained that in such a crucial circumstance, global collaboration and cohesion is the need of the hour to come out of the crisis posed by the pandemic.

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