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How India's COVID-19 response can strengthen local health systems

May 28, 2020 by PATH

PATH is working hand in hand with the governments of several Indian states to turn their COVID-19 response efforts into lasting improvements for the country’s health system.

COVID-19 State Control Room in Patna, Bihar, India. Photo: PATH

PATH supports data management in the COVID-19 State Control Room in Bihar, India. Photo: PATH

COVID-19 has changed the priorities of health systems around the world. Countries are faced with the immense challenge of rapidly responding to the pandemic while continuing to make progress against other health goals. With limited time and resources, existing barriers to health services and inefficiencies in health systems appear magnified. But many countries—including India—are translating the urgency around COVID-19 into opportunities to create more resilient health systems.

PATH’s long-standing partnership with state governments in India allows us to think critically about how the COVID-19 response can be turned into long-term improvements in health systems across the country.

Building on what works

As the necessary scale of the COVID-19 response became clear, PATH mobilized its expertise in India to support various state governments. From the COVID-19 response control rooms in Bihar and Karnataka to a virtual call center in Mumbai, PATH is enmeshed in the daily work of responding to the pandemic. Through this, we are helping to guide the planning and implementation of response activities and connect them to existing work to improve health services in India.

Supply chain

PATH has provided vital support in strengthening the domestic supply chain to help fortified rice reach school children across the country and expand the network of cold chain equipment delivering vaccines to communities. Building on this experience, PATH is working with the Directorate of Health Services in Maharashtra and Karnataka to understand the demand for essential drugs and equipment needed for COVID-19 patients. This allows for better planning by anticipating the need for medical oxygen and strengthens the coordination between the government’s partners. In Bihar, PATH is working with the postal department to facilitate the collection of drug samples for COVID-19.

Tuberculosis

PATH provides technical support to various states and to the national tuberculosis (TB) program through the Private Provider Interface Agency, a model that engages the private sector in TB control and treatment. As TB patients have additional medical vulnerability to COVID-19, PATH is leveraging its existing project to call 10,000 patients every week to provide them with information on protecting themselves from COVID-19 and identify problems with accessing TB medication.

Community engagement

PATH engages directly with communities to provide health education and information across health topics. PATH is supporting community awareness in the state of Uttar Pradesh to eliminate myths and misconceptions around COVID-19, ensure adherence to social distancing behaviors; increase awareness of prevention, hygiene, and isolation; and combat stigma. In Mumbai, PATH provides volunteers at a virtual call center to answer questions, provide community counselling, consult with travelers, and facilitate data entry on COVID-19 patients and their potential contacts.

A PATH India staff member answers calls at a virtual community counseling call center. Photo:PATH.

PATH staff are supporting a virtual call center to provide information to communities. Photo: PATH.

This is just a small sample of how PATH is supporting the COVID-19 response. Through this work, we are applying lessons learned over our 40 years of experience while also ensuring that new lessons are well-recorded and acted upon in real time. As the situation continues to evolve, the response will further contribute to the strengthening of India’s health system.

Innovation without disruption

Private-sector innovators are rapidly contributing new methods and tools to the COVID-19 response. Existing tools are being adapted and new tools are being created at a speed not often seen in the public health sector. By working directly with private-sector partners, PATH can identify opportunities to apply innovation and de-risk these new tools for the government health system.

Some of these efforts, like the Wadhwani artificial intelligence—driven symptom recognition tool or the handheld ultrasound machine from Philips, can help to speed diagnosis of COVID-19 as well as other respiratory illnesses, like TB. These technologies have the potential to increase the speed of diagnosis and improve access to diagnostic tests for marginalized populations.

India's Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms launched the COVID-19 Innovations Deployment Accelerator, or CCIDA, on March, 26, 2020, to rapidly deploy COVID-19 innovations with the highest potential for impact. PATH is actively supporting CCIDA to scale-up promising innovations and ensure they are available where they are most needed.

Examples of COVID-19 innovations supported through the C-CAMP COVID-19 Innovations Deployment Accelerator.

C-CIDA helps ensure COVID-19 innovations can reach the communities most-in-need.

With private-sector partner Everwell, PATH is finding ways to simplify data entry with a single point tool that can be used by both public and private hospitals. The tool provides daily reporting in Mumbai on new patient admissions, infrastructure, and logistics needs—improving the planning and response to the pandemic. Centralizing this information now will deepen relationships between public and private health care providers and demonstrate the importance of sharing information.

Creating lasting change

"The COVID-19 outbreak has stretched public health systems across the world. There is an urgent need to invest in public health to strengthen our health systems for rapid response while ensuring long-term preparedness. With our technical expertise and trust from government partners, PATH continues its vital work to support health facilities, partners and innovators across India in efforts to contain the pandemic," said Neeraj Jain, PATH's India country director.

“There is an urgent need to invest in public health to strengthen our health systems for rapid response while ensuring long-term preparedness.”
— Neeraj Jain, India country director

With the government, PATH is looking forward—beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to the long-term needs of India’s health systems. Many of our response activities will directly impact or influence the future of health in India. For example, new draft guidelines in Chhattisgarh will inform the refurbishment of hospitals and wards for COVID-19 containment. These guidelines will lead to the improvement of existing infrastructure that will outlast the pandemic. Engaging private doctors in Maharashtra and Mumbai in COVID-19 response will fortify the relationships between public and private providers, opening new avenues of collaboration in the future. Our work with the state governments on response planning and governance will create tools and strategies that can be applied to future outbreaks. As the pandemic evolves, the health system in India will continue to find new ways to build on past success—and always with an eye to the future.

Learn more about PATH's work in India
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