Report By: Nandika Chand | Last Updated June 6, 2020
A Public Health Commission with task-specific working groups is need of the time in this COVID-19 pandemic to provide real time technical inputs to the government. A senior AIIMS doctor, Dr Anoop Saraya said this in a joint statement by the Indian Public Health Association and the Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine.
The group called for engagement of citizens, governments at all levels and a diverse array of organizations and individuals involved in policymaking processes. Dr Saraya said transparency is also a need. “Transparency in terms of making details of discussion and decisions of scientific advisors to the government and public would give the wider scientific community a chance to offer constructive criticism on policies,” he said. “Open and transparent sharing of data with scientists, public health experts, and the public at large will strengthen pandemic control measures and help in building bottom up consensus in India.”
Dr Saraya wrote to the Indian Journal of Medical Science that formulating and adopting policy responses is the responsibility of government leaders. “However, scientific and technical experts are central in policy responses to uncertain problems.” He pointed out that societies are relying on scientific and technical experts to forecast the COVID-19 pandemic’s trajectory, to accelerate the development of vaccines and to explain the situation to the public.
Experts have also sounded alarm as early last month, the joint secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India had said that India’s epidemic curve was “relatively flat”. But the Director of AIIMS had said that the number of COVID-19 cases is “likely to peak in next 1 – 2 months”.
“These confusing signals have cropped up because the public faces of the government for policy development and communication on this health crisis are clinicians and bureaucrats, rather than epidemiologists and public health experts,” the letter said. It pointed out that public health experts expressed concern about the inadequate planning and coordination of the COVID-19 response. They also suggested mechanisms for better planning and coordination.