NGOs, private sector, MNCs, a university and state governments have come together to set up low cost COVID-19 treatment centres in 10 places in India.

an empty covid care centre with beds
news Coronavirus Monday, November 02, 2020 - 13:31

Dr Miniya Chatterji was in France in the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “When I returned to India, there were only about 300 cases here. But I knew that when the disease would spread, our healthcare system would be under tremendous stress… And in a country where one in six people live in slums, physical distancing would be a challenge,” says Dr Miniya, who is the director of AnantU Centre for Sustainability and the CEO of Sustain Labs Paris.

In May, Dr Miniya and her colleague at Anant University Dhaval Monani wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that large spaces such as halls that are not in use must be utilised to set up COVID-19 treatment centres to make them accessible. They scouted for collaborations independently as well – and several organisations, NGOs, corporates and Anant University, state governments and local self-governments came together.

The resulting public-private-university partnership model has resulted in several low-cost COVID-19 treatment centres for mild to moderate cases being set up in various parts of India including Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, Rajkot, Mumbai and Delhi.

How these treatment centres are set up

The first such centre came up in Thiruvananthapuram with 20 beds, four of which were made of cardboard. These cardboard beds, designed by Anant University, are made in such a way that they are supported at every important part of the structure so they can take the weight of six people. The state governments and local administration helped them zero in on the location to set up these centres in Kerala and elsewhere.

The collaborators that made this possible are Parliamentarians with Innovators of India (PII), an organisation that creates collaborations between citizens, parliamentarians, and industry leaders, where Dr Miniya is a mentor; NGOs like Habitat for Humanity; and Population Foundation of India, and several private players like Cisco and Godrej among others. In India, the 10 centres have a capacity of 1,520 beds.

After Kerala, the team set up two more centres in Mumbai. “The Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) identified these places. Godrej Consumer Products funded one of the facilities,” Dr Miniya says.

A centre in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

A centre in St Xaviers in Mumbai

“Similarly, in Rajkot, we were able to set up a 100-bed facility after PII brought in partners. Then, we set up another one in Delhi with the help of the Population Foundation of India, and another one in the same city with funding by Aircel. A total of three such facilities are in Delhi and have a capacity of 400 beds in total. In Bengaluru, we have set up a 250-bed centre which is funded by Cisco,” adds Dr Miniya.

“These centres do not take over 6-7 days to set up. And once that is done, we hand them over to the local or state government. We also need the government’s help right in the beginning because they zero in on the locations where we can set up these centres,” Dr Miniya explains.

Lowering production cost to boost accessibility

Calling this a public-private-university partnership model, Dr Miniya notes that the latter is an important element of the partnership because it brings in an innovation which has allowed them to reduce the setting up and production cost: it was Anant University that approached PII with a concept note to turn vacant spaces into hospital beds. Under the leadership of Dr Miniya and Dr Anunaya Chaubey, Provost of the university, the institute is using sustainable material like cardboard for not just beds, but also IV stands and room separators.

Lowering the cost of production and set-up has enabled the government to maximise the capacity in terms of the number of beds. The treatment provided at these centres is free, allowing more people from disadvantaged sections access.

Population Foundation of India Executive Director Poonam Muttreja said that developing such low-cost models without compromising the quality are essential and required at this time. PFI has collaborated on the project under their ‘Himmat Hai Toh Jeet Hai’ campaign that celebrates frontline workers. “These kinds of innovative healthcare solutions are even more significant during a global pandemic that has impacted healthcare facilities across the world. These kinds of university-government-non-governmental-private partnerships are essential for creating localised, sustainable and scalable responses to help India strengthen its defence in the pandemic," Poonam said.

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