For the first time in six months since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan speaks to CNN-News18 on the manner in which the crisis has been handled in the country. The top-ranking bureaucrat retires on July 31. Sudan says she has done all that she could have with her team and would not have done anything differently.
What has your biggest learning been during the six months of the pandemic? Would you have done anything differently in handling it?
India's response has been preemptive, graded and proactive. I don't think we could have done this any other way. Neither the world nor I still know much about the virus. But we have responded very well; with one clarion call of the Prime Minister the whole nation came together. The way we responded, the manner in which the public health system responded, the manner in which states came together, it is a lesson for not just us but the entire world. In a federal structure, everyone has taken up the challenge. The top leadership led us in a manner in which the response was quick and that brought everyone together. The officers came together, we had 11 empowered groups, the number of meetings we took, the manner in which our team worked across ministries, how states responded, NCDC, ICMR, DHR, all worked together. There was not a single break that my team members in health ministry took in the last six months. Even when they go home, they are responding to queries, emergencies. The response has been remarkable. Our doctors our nurses, our front line workers have responded in a well-coordinated way. Everyone has worked with the feeling that we are doing this for ourselves, we are doing this for the country, and that is how it should be. And I don't think we could have done it any differently.
Please tell us how India has become 'atmanirbhar' over the past six months. And what about equitable distribution of vaccine? How can that be ensured?
We were a nation with just one lab in Pune. Now we are a country with 1,300 labs. In the last two days we were testing more than 5 lakh samples. We have tested 1 crore 68 lakh people. Not just this, we were not manufacturing PPEs , N95 masks or ventilators. I think this is a testimony to our self-reliance and our 'atmanirbhar' initiative. Also, I would say the manner in which the public health system has risen to the occasion, how we have expanded our facilities to take in patients, the manner in which beds were created— we have more than 15 lakh beds now across the three types of facilities that we have created across the country. We have come together to respond together; our labs, our surveillance system, the great work that our emergency units have done, it shows we can rise to the occasion and become self-reliant.