Manipur taking on the virus from 2020 to 2021

Sonny Chungkham
When Covid-19 first knocked on the doors of Manipur, we were just realising how deadly the disease was in the first few months. Our limited health infrastructure wasn’t ready to bear the onslaught of the first wave of Covid-19. The State immediately went into a shut-open-shut mode of operation.
Blessing in Disguise
Before the Covid crisis the State’s healthcare capacity was not up to the mark. There was a lack of basic amenities such as ICU beds, oxygen plants, and ambulances. However, realising the gap in public healthcare the Government started increasing the beds at an extremely fast pace,though we can say that it was done only due to the urgent nature of the crisis.
In the initial days there was no testing facility in the State, all the samples had to be transported to Pune which took a few days to return the result. The situation is significantly much better  changed now with Manipur increasing its testing capacity up to several thousands.
Another huge push was when the State Government realized that large groups of its non-residents were returning home from every nook and corner of the country due to the pandemic. The State had the support of thousands of community volunteers with the support of local MLAs at quarantine facilities and provided them complementary transportation.
As the State was tackling the rising Covid cases, there was another issue that was of utmost importance, that is treatment of the non-Covid patients. The State Government was shocked when a pregnant woman passed away due to health complication after being denied admission in 5 hospitals. After this horrendous incident the State Government directed all the hospitals, Government & Private, to provide treatment to non-Covid patients.
During the 2020 wave, the State saw a total of 2 Covid hospitals in Manipur along with 14 dedicated Covid Care Hospital. The total beds in the Covid Hospitals were 185 and total beds at the Covid Care Centres were maintained at 1543. The State which just had a few ventilators in the beginning, was increased to 47 in 2020 and even more ventilators are added as we speak. And the number of ICU beds have been increased.
The State has seen an overall improvement in the Health Infrastructure through skill development of Healthcare providers - Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics, Drivers, MTS to meet the demand of the pandemic. The manpower requirement has also seen a considerable boost as doctors (100), nurses (60), MTS (40) etc. in each district have been added, plus hiring of new professionals is in progress during the 2nd wave.
Another big breakthrough has been the push on mental health related initiatives where any citizen requiring counselling could avail through telephone a helpline number. Upon that people’s general awareness on ‘Keeping good health is believed to have improved’.  
Challenges Ahead
Even though the State has seen an overall improvement in public healthcare, the challenge remains in the quality aspect of treatment and the ‘sustainability’ of this newly re-energised sector. The  common fear is that once the pandemic is over, all the equipment and functions will go back to the pre-Covid state of nonchalant disarray.
Added to that, the general attitude of doctors from the valley not wanting to be posted in hill districts even during such a crisis is a disgrace to the world’s noblest profession. Such non-compliance of ethics should not be tolerated.  Healthcare professionals should be strictly transferred through a separate committee which is independent of its influences.
Further, vaccination should be made on a war footing with a focus on decentralization to avoid congestion and commotion. As we have heard from the Union Health Secretary the 3rd wave of Covid-19 is all but inevitable and vaccination is our only hope. We cannot just continue with infinite lockdowns as its impact on the economy and State GDP is devastating, with the weaker sections being the most vulnerable.
The State should intervene and provide financial assistance to BPL families for a few months to ease their burden during these desperate times. An example to be followed can be taken from the USA on how mass vaccinations have not only led to their economic recovery but also loosening of restrictions on mandatory wearing of masks.
Finally, as the virus mutates, the State Government and its healthcare needs to adapt to the unfolding reality further as well. But, overall the State health professionals and frontline workers have done a tremendous job and have earned the gratitude of its people for times to come.

Chungkham Sonny Singh, is a Public Policy & Governance analyst.
Alumni School of Public Policy & Governance TISS, Mumbai