Govts will need to support armed forces with PPEs, ventilators if Covid situation worsens

Army personnel being screened at the Command Hospital in Kolkata | Photo: PTI
Army personnel being screened at the Command Hospital in Kolkata | Photo: PTI

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New Delhi: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as state health departments will need to support the armed forces with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits and ventilators as their availability is finite, Lt Gen. Anup Banerji, director general of the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) has told ThePrint.

The armed forces currently have an adequate number of PPEs and ventilators for around 10,000 beds they have provided in aid to civil authorities in over 50 hospitals. However, if the situation worsens, they might need government support.

“For PPE, ventilators etc., the armed forces need to be supported by the health ministry and the various state health departments, since the availability of these items is finite, and have been currently catered for only the 10,000 beds earmarked for civilians,” Banerji said.

Also read: Tough to ‘weaponise’ coronavirus, but can’t rule out attacks: Armed Forces Medical Chief

Cases in the military

Lt Gen. Banerji’s comments come in the backdrop of multiple Covid-19 positive cases reported within the military. Just a week ago, 24 in-patients at the Army’s Research and Referral (R&R) Hospital in Delhi had tested positive. Last month, 26 sailors at the INS Angre, a stone frigate (naval establishment on land) under the Western Naval Command in Mumbai, tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

This is despite the armed forces following strict measures inside their bases, because if even a single person contracts Covid-19, the spread is likely to be at a faster rate, not just affecting the community, but also operational preparedness.

Asked about the cases in the military, Lt Gen. Banerji said: “We need to accept the fact that the pandemic has affected the entire country, cutting across all segments of society, with more than 47 per cent of the districts in either red or orange zones. The armed forces cannot be considered in isolation from the rest of the country.”

He added that if the Covid-19 pandemic spirals out of control, the fact that the armed forces will not be immune to it will first need to be accepted.

“We need to be geared up first to attend to our own serving personnel, their dependents and the huge ex-servicemen clientele who are especially liable to develop complications,” the officer said.

Training personnel to tackle Covid-19

Banerji said the medical and paramedical personnel have been trained in handling Covid-19 cases according to established protocols.

“We have now trained even non-medical personnel (BFNAs) in every command to act as frontline responders for Covid-19 cases,” he said.

Speaking about the efforts of the armed forces on containing the spread of the pandemic, the officer further said that infections, often in clusters, will continue to take place due to the highly contagious nature of the virus.

“The success of our plans will depend on our ability to control and prevent their further spread. Healthcare facilities are especially at higher risk since patients with non Covid illness will come to hospitals from hotspots,” he said.

Lt Gen. Banerji added that since a majority of such patients are asymptomatic, they will continue to pose a threat to healthcare workers and other admitted patients.

“Although we have put measures in place to prevent such incidents, we need to balance between denial of treatment to patients with conditions other than Covid and the threat to healthcare workers,” he said.

Also read: Armed forces put non-operational expenditure on hold amid Covid-19 fund crunch


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