NEWS: IGUHC during the times of COVID-19: Rising to the occasion

For the past year the Indo-German Program on Universal Health Coverage (IGUHC) has been advising and consulting the Government of India on its road towards Universal Health Coverage. In our work with the Ministry Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), the National Health Authority (NHA) and with selected State Governments we constantly have one main goal: to strengthen India’s health system and improve financial and social health security to Indian citizens. A goal, which during the Covid-19 pandemic and its grip on societies worldwide is gaining even more relevance. Our Programme’s activities to support AB PM-JAY (India’s national health insurance scheme for the poor), and the capacity strengthening in specific States, such as Assam, is now more important than ever.
For this reason special funds by the German Indian development cooperation were dedicated to the fight against the pandemic and its effect. Last April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany will specifically support India in its efforts to prevent and control the spread of Covid-19. Some of this support is to be implemented by the IGUHC in order to increase the testing and treatment capacities in hospitals and laboratories. One of our main focuses in this respect is the State Assam. Even before the pandemic hit, the programme had been working closely with the State Health Agency of Assam to strengthen its health care capacities and institutions, support the implementation of PM-JAY and improve overall health services. While our previous support already provided a good base to tackle the challenges COVID-19 brings along, we have been increasing our assistance in Assam’s fight against the pandemic over the past few months.
With a population of 31.2 million and 33 administrative districts, Assam used combatting strategies in line with those that were used nationwide: aggressive testing, strict quarantine and rapid hospital capacity. An additional approach was the implementation of “COVID-19 plus”, a Community surveillance plan, where community health workers and accredited social health activists visited potential cases door-to-door and by doing so carried out intensive surveillance of its 28,000 villages. This was followed by a second phase of intensive testing that were carried out in potential hotspots.

GIZ’s direct COVID-19 support to the State health Department of Assam

To improve health services and strengthen the State’s health institutions, GIZ has already worked closely with Assam prior to the pandemic by providing additional capacity building and technical support for implementation of AB PM-JAY. With the pandemic posing an even bigger risk to Assam’s progress towards UHC than to other states with more advanced health infrastructure in place, we have increased our programmes focus on the state of Assam. While the state itself has ramped up testing facilities rapidly, the sheer number of samples has resulted in huge backlog on testing sample and additional private laboratories need to be empanelled. Starting last year, and planning to support Assam for approximately another half year, GIZ assisted by subsidizing the COVID-19 testing costs for the poor and vulnerable population that was not yet covered by any government sponsored programme, by empanelling additional private laboratories and equipping other labs to increase virus testing.

With many hospitals and labs not equipped well enough to deal with the pandemic in the first place, equipment was needed fast. Thus, part of our agreement with the Assam State Authority consists not only of the funding of 5000 Covid-19 tests per month over the next few months, but also of funding several Covid-19 related medical products, such as protective and laboratory equipment’s. To make sure these investments actually reached the people in need, it is necessary to make them accessible: so far people in Assam often had to travel far in order to get tested and receive health care, which is why we are simultaneously working on empanelling and certifying more and more laboratories and enhancing the capacity of existing laboratories in some of the medical colleges. This gives people not only easier access to health care, but also gives them options to choose where they want to be treated. Another step taken to ensure beneficiaries receive good health care, are specific trainings for medical personnel, where they learn about safe testing and the correct use of the provided equipment. While the overall procurement of goods is handled by the GIZ head office, the goods are coming from different countries all over the world.
The timely action from GIZ immensely helped the State in ramping up the number of COVID testing. The role of IGUHC-GIZ during Assam’s COVID management was much appreciated in an event ‘Kayakalp for Quality Assurance in Health Institutions of Assam’ in Guwahati date 20th February 2021, Department of Health & Family Welfare, Government of Assam. GIZ was felicitated by Hon’ble Minister Health & Family Welfare Government of Assam for contributing immensely during the COVID-19 pandemic in Assam.
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