Expand Screening to Stop Covid-19 from Becoming an Epidemic

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Many years ago, following a family tragedy, I founded the SaveLIFE Foundation to save lives on roads in India. I know what it is like to lose a loved one. I don’t want anyone to go through what my family and I did.

I feel the need to take action once again today because a threat called COVID-19 is endangering not just some but all of us. We need to act fast. In this case, acting fast means signing my petition asking the Health Minister of India to expand testing beyond government hospitals, to pre-empt the disease from becoming an epidemic.

This because "India is now less than 30 days away from Stage 3 of the COVID-19 spreading into our communities" (Indian Council of Medical Research in the Economic Times on 14th March)

Some may argue that the number of positive cases in India is low and therefore we may not enter stage 3. But experts like the former head of the National Health Systems Resource Centre says that “this low number may be because of low, inadequate testing”. What if the number of undetected cases is higher?

Currently, only 52 government facilities and 50-60 private labs are conducting the tests. They can’t serve a country of over 1.3 billion people.

In a welcome move, the Government of Gujarat has mandated all Government and Private hospitals to have "flu corners" for the screening of suspected cases of COVID-19. It’s time this practice is scaled up nationally and extended to other States, especially those affected by the disease.

If we truly want the spread of Covid-19 to be controlled and contained, which, the ICMR says is possible if we act RIGHT NOW, then drastic steps are needed.

Sign my petition asking the Government of India to expand screening to ensure Covid-19 doesn’t become an epidemic.

Join me in specifically asking the government to

1. Provide testing kits and preparedness instructions to all 700 District Hospitals in India, medical colleges and private hospitals to enhance testing capacity. Countries like South Korea have established drive-through testing facilities in large parking lots to enable suspected patients (with a fever of 100.4 degrees or more) to drive down and get swabbed. Their strategy of mass-screening, early diagnosis, and effective treatment has led to a sharp drop in new cases as well as fatalities;

2. Create a public registry of ICU beds in the country across public and private hospitals to know how many critical patients can be treated effectively. Provision for additional beds based on predictions by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the ICMR must be made urgently;

3. Undertake, on a war-footing, the training of community health workers to deal with the near-certain eventuality of COVID-19 reaching an epidemic scale;

4. Improve reporting of cases using the excellent protocols already in place for Polio detection;

5. Secure urgent budgetary allocation from the Government of India to undertake all of the above;

I applaud the Health Ministry for doing a commendable job of identifying, tracing and isolating cases across the country as well as providing support to stranded Indians overseas. I am confident that if the Government takes this next big step and fast, we will fight this crisis away and keep our families and communities safe.