Government flags underutilization of COVID-19 emergency fund by states
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Sunday said that all states have collectively utilized only over 17% of the central government's Rs. 23,123 crore Emergency COVID-19 Response Package II (ECRP-II). The fund—approved by the Union Cabinet last August—was meant for ramping up medical infrastructure in states. Mandaviya also asked states to boost health infrastructure to tackle the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Mandaviya's comments came in a review meeting with state health ministers and senior state health department officials. The meeting came as India has been witnessing a spike in COVID-19 cases. From reporting a mere 6,531 cases on December 26, daily infections in India have now crossed the 30,000-mark. Similarly, the active caseload also crossed the 1,00,000-mark after recording a steep decline for weeks.
Mandaviya said other countries were witnessing "three to four times the surge in COVID-19 cases in comparison to their earlier peaks." A "high surge in cases can overwhelm the medical system" in India, too, he said. "Therefore, states (should) leave no stone unturned in ramping up infrastructure to manage a high surge so that India escapes unscathed from this episode of COVID-19," he added.
As per the Union Health Ministry, states/union territories were asked to "expedite the physical progress under ECRP-II in terms of ICU beds, oxygen beds, paediatric ICU/HDU beds." States were also asked to use available IT tools for telemedicine and teleconsultation, including training and capacity building of human resources, availability of ambulances, the readiness of institutional quarantining facilities, monitoring of those in home isolation.
In August last year, the Union Cabinet had approved a new Rs. 23,123 crore India COVID-19 Emergency Response & Health System Preparedness Package: Phase-II (ECRP-II). Under ECRP-II, the Centre approved the creation of 23,056 ICU beds. The ECRP-II aims to augment the three-tier healthcare system up to the village level. Its funds have also been used for the creation of oxygen infrastructure in states.
During the meeting, Mandaviya also discussed "critical bottlenecks in medical infrastructure" and urged the states to "strengthen monitoring and containment mechanisms." "This was followed by a comprehensive and detailed discussion on various aspects of COVID-19 management," the ministry said. These include augmentation of hospital infrastructure; increased testing; stringent restrictive measures, and stress on COVID-19 appropriate behavior among people.
Ahead of vaccination of the 15-18 year age group, Mandaviya asked states to ensure the orientation of vaccinators and team and the identification of dedicated session sites. The states were also asked to plan for the distribution of COVAXIN in advance and publish sessions for at least 15 days. Notably, COVAXIN is the only vaccine approved to administer in this age group.