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On 2 April, the World Bank approved approved World Bank World Bank Fast-Tracks $1 Billion COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Support for India Read more $1 billion in aid to bolster India’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The funding was to help sharpen the tips of India’s trident in the fight against the virus—the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), and the National Health Mission National Health Mission National Health Mission It is the Indian government’s overarching, centrally-managed programme for healthcare delivery (NHM). 

Already, India’s health ministry has released released New Indian Express Does not have countrywide data on daily COVID-19 testing capacity: Centre in RTI reply Read more  about half of this aid—Rs 4,114 crore ($540 million)—to states, and hopes to see results soon. But while the funding has helped ICMR and NHM ramp up testing and treatment, respectively, NCDC—which is meant to monitor and trace the spread of Covid-19—finds itself in a rut. Its flagship programme, the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), could have done more during the unfolding health crisis.

World Bank’s funding

It includes $350 million in emergency support for scaling up isolation wards and intensive care units, and purchase of testing kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and medicines. The other portion of the committed $1 billion will be utilised to strengthen India's ability to respond to such healthcare emergencies in future.

Part of this comes down to the logistics involved. Conducting testing and treatment is straightforward enough. Tracing, however, is a whole other matter.

“It is IDSP’s job to control disease outbreaks from turning into epidemics,” said an official working with the health ministry, who did not want to be named because they are not allowed to talk to the media. “They have been India’s first line of defence. But it is a hugely manpower- and resource-heavy task to control outbreaks.”

IDSP, after all, is tasked with tracing outbreaks of 21 infectious diseases—including malaria, viral hepatitis, and chickenpox. To do this, it is expected to collect data from every healthcare body across the country, from primary care centres to community healthcare centres, hospitals, and laboratories. In case this wasn’t hard enough, the private sector, which accounts for 70% of India’s inpatient capacity, isn’t obligated to share data with IDSP.

“IDSP always finds obstacles and challenges in working with everyone, and we have found no permanent fix to it,” said a senior executive with a not-for-profit, which is working with the government.


Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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