Nationalizing hospitals is not a solution: Apollo joint MD

Rupali Mukherjee | TNN

Mumbai: Nationalization of hospitals is not the solution to deal with the pandemic, the joint MD said in Apollo Hospitals , the largest hospital group in the country with a turnover of more than Rs 9,000 crore. Reddy, who is also president of the Ficci business body, emphasized that he will partner with the government in their fight against the outbreak. She said the group's six labs in Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai, Bhubaneswar and Kolkata have been approved for testing, and will begin testing shortly. Excerpts from an email interaction with TOI:

Given around 66% of hospital beds are in the private sector, there’s a view that the government should nationalise hospitals. What is your view? How would Apollo contribute?

I do not believe nationalisation is the solution. This is the time to work as one, use each other’s strengths to complement and strengthen the response to Covid-19 and set an example of how a public-private partnership should be! At times such as these, we need to come together to overcome the threat. The government and private sector working together, sharing best practices, can definitely overcome the biggest healthcare challenge that the country has faced.

In the wake of the increase in Covid-19 cases in India, how ready is India with infrastructure like ventilators, ICU beds and isolation rooms?

With our network of 70 hospitals, we have the largest number of ICU and isolation facilities in the private sector, and we are fully prepared for a stage where highly specialized treatment will be required for critically ill patients. Across the network, we have over 250 beds, which can be upgraded to 500 beds, created just to treat critically ill patients at any time and around 1,000 ventilators. We hope to provide advanced care to more than 2,000 patients per month. Additional medications, consumables, hospital supplies, negative pressure rooms, ventilators, and medical equipment have been purchased or reserved from suppliers to meet any increase in demand. We have also secured the storage of PPE (personal protective equipment) for all of our staff.

Do you feel that India is doing fewer tests and even asymptomatic people should be tested?

I believe that while generalized testing will be required with an expansion of testing conditions, the testing strategy takes into account several factors, including current recommendations, availability of test kits, and infrastructure.

Since private labs are now allowed to test for Covid-19, the testing capacity will certainly increase, but may need to be restricted to symptomatic patients. Even the ECDC (European Center for Disease Prevention and Control) has indicated that there is insufficient documented evidence on transmission of asymptomatic people. However, what is being done is intensifying the random sampling of people who show flu-like symptoms but have no history of travel to Covid-19 areas. This will also help determine if community transmission is occurring.

One of the problems with tests in asymptomatic people is that, due to a lower virus load, the report can be negative and the patient can be quarantined while the disease and symptoms develop in the next two weeks. This is a great risk. Also be careful with false positives. A study conducted in China on close contacts of patients with Covid-19 showed that almost half or even more of the asymptomatic infected individuals reported in the active nucleic acid screening test could be false positives.

What would be the economic impact of the situation in the health/hospital sector in the short and medium term?

I think this is not the time to think about the economic impact, as it is not just the health sector in India, but the global economy that has been and will be affected in the coming months. In the short term, the impact on medical value travel or medical tourism will be negative, but in the long term, I am confident that the healthcare industry as a resilient industry will recover to its normal growth.

Are there any lessons for India and its healthcare sector, from countries like Italy, that have supposedly not managed the situation properly? And what about those who handled it well like South Korea?

The government ’s response shows that we have learnt from the experience of other countries. This is evident from the decision taken to lock down the country, with trains, flights, buses stopped for everything other than emergencies or essential services. As far as it comes to healthcare, we are on top of the latest recommendations for drugs, which may benefit patients with Covid-19, with the government taking necessary steps to ensure supply by restricting exports. This is a situation that requires countries to close borders, but at the same time cooperate on a global scale to meet this unprecedented healthcare challenge.

With the news that healthcare providers are succumbing to the virus, one lesson is that we must focus more on protecting our doctors and healthcare workers so that, while treating and fulfilling this call to action to serve humanity, be protected from disease. We need to have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for health personnel to be protected.