Dr Naresh Trehan speaks at length about the lessons learnt from the devastating outbreak of the second wave of COVID-19, the efficacy of the vaccination programme, the need for strengthening India’s medical infrastructure and many more issues in a freewheeling interview with Namaste Bharat CEO Rashmi
Renowned cardiovascular and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Naresh Trehan has emerged as a key figure in India’s battle against COVID-19. The Chairman and Managing Director and Chief Cardiac Surgeon at Medanta-The Medicity is the recipient of numerous accolades including the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award and Dr BC Roy Award.
In an exclusive interview with Rashmi, he spoke at length on the second wave of the pandemic, the nation’s preparedness to deal with the anticipated third wave, and much more. Excerpts.
How well do you think India has managed the devastating fury of COVID-19 2.0?
The second wave of COVID-19 in India rapidly culminated in one of the worst outbreaks globally. Nobody imagined that a second wave would hit the country so hard within such a short span of time. The robust planning that helped tackle the first wave effectively went in vain, due to the complacency that set in, leading to unanticipated shortages of medicines, medical supplies and hospital beds. Despite these challenges, however, government officials, both at the national and state levels, acted quickly and swiftly. Overnight lockdowns helped contain the spread, alongside other measures. While the number of cases was startling during the second wave, a smaller percentage of patients required hospitalisation as compared to the first wave.
Do you think India has been able to effectively handle the world’s largest vaccination drive in response to the outbreak of COVID-19?
While India is the manufacturing hub for vaccines, making 7-8 crore doses available each month is a challenge that is slowly getting addressed. Since our population is very large, we will have to get 60-70 crore Indians vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Initially, the gap between the two doses was increased to 12 weeks and India also adopted this standard. However, this time period has now been reduced to eight weeks. Also, there are more COVID-19 vaccines which are now being made available in India, and the target is to vaccinate 60 crore people with both doses before December 2021.
What are the lessons learned from the way the second wave of COVID-19 caught the government unawares, resulting in death, despair and destruction everywhere?
It is abundantly clear that vaccination is key to managing this pandemic, for achieving herd immunity and protecting the population from repeat outbreaks. The second wave has underlined the urgent need to focus on pandemic preparedness planning. The government has to ensure that there is adequate manufacturing capacity to produce these vaccines to prevent situations like vaccination centres being closed or beneficiaries being turned away due to shortage. Governments need to invest in creating a minimal inventory of essential medicines and medical supplies at critical centres to provide the healthcare industry with an adequate buffer time to cater to demand surges. Surveillance systems need to be created to identify and track outbreaks and contain any spread within hotspots. Quarantine protocols need to be calibrated to contain the spread of the virus.
Is the country well equipped to handle the likely third wave of COVID-19?
There are a few key aspects we need to focus on to address the third wave:
- Testing facilities need to be ramped up.
- People need to be encouraged to seek medical advice at the right time.
- More awareness needs to be created and myths have to be dispelled to encourage citizens to get vaccinated.
- Close surveillance and data tracking can help in the taking of quick decisions to control outbreaks within zones.
What steps do you think the government needs to take to strengthen India’s medical infrastructure to meet emergencies like the one posed by COVID-19?
Pandemic preparedness and response are a quintessential part of the healthcare infrastructure. Our current healthcare architecture and facilities need to be ramped up, as the risk of our country being significantly affected by the direct consequences of the outbreak is high. Efforts should be directed at more focused investments in the healthcare system which will turn our COVID-19 response efforts into long-term benefits for the country’s healthcare infrastructure in the near future.