Waiting For Government To Authorise Private Healthcare To Join Fight Against Coronavirus, Say Industry Leaders
A lab technician prepares solutions for the manufacture of coronavirus diagnostic test kits in a clean room at the TIB Molbiol Syntheselabor GmbH production facility in Berlin, Germany. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)  

Waiting For Government To Authorise Private Healthcare To Join Fight Against Coronavirus, Say Industry Leaders

Indian officials have been in dialogue with private healthcare service providers on steps taken to contain and treat Covid-19 but the government hasn’t solicited their active participation as yet, according to head of companies BloombergQuint spoke with.

Detailed steps of how the private sector can contribute are being discussed with the government, Sangita Reddy, joint managing director at Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd., among India’s largest hospital chains, said in a discussion with BloombergQuint. “Private sector is equipped and ready, but the government hasn’t given the authorisation yet.”

Ameera Shah, managing director at diagnostics company Metropolis Healthcare Ltd., said the private sector could help expand testing facilities—currently the government has mandated 52 government-owned labs for testing and another 57 for sample collection. The government has expressed intent to partner with private diagnostic companies but it hasn’t yet gotten to details of lab standards, kits, etc., she said.

The government has taken good preventive steps, acknowledged Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman and managing director of Biocon Ltd. But it needs to prepare to bring additional capacity online in case the current number of 75 patients rise exponentially, she said.

The experience of the past month has shown that countries such as Taiwan and South Korea, that worked quickly to identify, isolate and treat coronavirus patients, were able to delay the sudden rise in numbers of infected, reducing the load on public healthcare services. In others, late detection has led to healthcare facilities being overwhelmed by a rapid rise in patients.

According to government data, 1,114,025 passengers at 30 airports have being screened. Starting today, most visas issued by India stand suspended and passengers who have arrived in India via China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after Feb. 15 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.

“India will need to screen a larger population to be ahead of this crisis,” said Mazumdar-Shaw, acknowledging the efforts made already.

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Here are some other key highlights from the conversation:

KIRAN MAZUMDAR-SHAW

  • Will need to screen a larger population to be ahead of this crisis
  • Will need to make sure that government is a state of preparedness with respect to stockpiling drugs and vaccines
  • There’s no cause for concern with respect to drug availability for the next six months; but if coronavirus crisis flares up, we are going to have a challenge
  • Government should reach out to private hospitals and diagnostic centres
  • Need to have capacity with respect to diagnostic centres, nursing homes
  • 20 percent of Covid-19 patients need hospitalisation, many nations don’t have enough ICU beds
  • Biotech companies have capability to provide rapid screening and then send patients to labs for confirmatory tests
  • Controls such as export restrictions, that are put in place in times of such epidemics, are a huge challenge for the industry
  • Extremely important for private sector and government to work closely and not put in place some knee-jerk restrictions
  • Must use this pandemic to introspect and look at how we plan for such outbreaks

AMEERA SHAH

  • Fear of being quarantined in government hospitals preventing many people from getting tested
  • South Korea’s large-scale testing helped reduce the mortality rates
  • India should go the same way as South Korea; we will be in a much better shape
  • Government should partner private labs to ramp up efforts against Covid-19
  • Private sector infrastructure is ready; need government approval to get started
  • If India engages the private sector quickly, we will be able to carry out sufficient number of tests
  • The more India delays roping in the private sector, the resource crunch will get worse
  • Too soon for governments to get validated testing kits for Covid-19
  • Have to use standardised U.S. FDA approved kits in the meantime
  • Around seven companies are producing kits to test for Covid-19, which are available in India
  • Confirmatory test for Covid-19 is a polymerase chain reaction test, based on molecular technology
  • Rapid screening tests have some limitations, hence they are used as first level screening
  • Rapid screening is not based on molecular technology hence, they will give quick results, but they can't be considered as confirmation
  • Rapid screening tests have to be followed up with confirmatory tests
  • Loophole is a false negative

SANGITA REDDY

  • Even if the private sector doesn’t carry out tests, companies can contribute trained professionals to help collect samples
  • Private sector has already identified the beds that can be given to the government to help with treatment
  • The mechanism is already in place to for the private sector to contribute, if the scenario escalates
  • Private sector is equipped and ready, but the government hasn’t given the authorisation yet
  • The government authorisation can happen literally in minutes
  • Detailed steps of how the private sector can contribute are being discussed with the government
  • Intent of the government to partner with the private sector is very clear
  • Private sector has offered to help collect samples and send to the government labs
  • India still in primary containment stage
  • Person can remain asymptotic for 14 days, there’s shortage of testing kits and rapid screening carries the risk of false negatives
  • Self-isolation is the best bet considering the three scenarios
  • We have to be ready if the crisis escalates to stage 2 or 3
  • There’s absolutely the likelihood of more positive cases already in India
  • 25 percent of infected people have very minor symptoms
  • Pharma companies say they have adequate supplies for the next three-six months
  • If the scenario stretches beyond that, we will have a challenge on our hands
  • Bigger problem is the shortage of masks and hand sanitisers
  • Only ventilatory care or advanced care, which is happening to less than 20 percent of people who are positive, is costly
  • Right now, we have been told that they government will pay for the treatment plus insurance will cover the costs
  • Confident that the government will come out with a clear policy
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