The National Health Authority is on a war footing to ready a COVID-19 special package under the government’s flagship Ayushman Bharat-PMJAY scheme as the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise and many states go for a lockdown. NHA chief executive Indu Bhushan told Business Standard that this is among the steps being taken by the Authority just in case there’s a need.
Specific coronavirus-related plans for isolation wards are being finetuned, after which it would be reviewed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in terms of protocol. It will have to be approved by the NHA’s governing board after that. Officials pointed out that such a package would be needed if coronavirus spreads to the community level.
Currently, the Ayushman-PMJAY scheme, which does not deal with preventive healthcare cover, offers hospitalisation packages for intensive care units, high-dependency units and normal wards. There’s no provision for isolation wards under the universal health assurance scheme, which caters to underprivileged citizens with an annual cover of Rs 5 lakh per family. Since isolation wards, a necessity for patients infected with the virus, will be like private wards, the cost, to be borne by PMJAY, will be significantly higher.
NHA is also keeping a close watch on its live data as well as on the call centre details that the Ayushman scheme sits on to detect any unusual pattern. The measure is expected to help in minimising the impact of coronavirus in India, Bhushan said.
Officials monitoring the data at Ayushman are looking for unusual spikes in influenza like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infections (SARI). If there’s any abnormal increase, this has to be reported to ICMR to ensure there’s no outbreak. Officials said that this data would not be shared without proper vetting.
Similarly, PMJAY officials are sifting through the data from call centres carefully. If the number of calls for any district goes up extraordinarily, the trend would be captured for further analysis of whether
this has any relation to COVID-19. According to an official, a spike was found recently in flu cases in southern Tripura, bordering Bangladesh. ‘’The data is being closely watched,’’ he said.
‘’We are preparing ourselves in case there’s a spread. That includes ensuring private sector facility to support treatment of COVID-19 cases,’’ Bhushan pointed out. The NHA is assessing the capacity and readiness of private hospitals on this.
In addition, NHA and ICMR are in talks to allow testing for coronavirus by authorised Ayushman centres, while trying to ensure that the disease does not spread any further in the country.
Even as Ayushman Bharat had not played a proactive role in the corona warfare so far, things may change depending on how long the virus lasts.