The reality of COVID-19 pandemic dawned on many Indian citizens on Sunday, March 22, 2020, when our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, called for a “Janata curfew”. One of the world’s strictest lockdowns ensued, which kept COVID-19 cases under a tight leash, and importantly, gave our public health and healthcare systems adequate time to gear up to face the gargantuan the challenge of COVID-19.
Udupi district in coastal Karnataka has a good record of accomplishment in healthcare as demonstrated by favourable development and health indices. However, getting ready to face COVID-19 was a challenge like no other. The district administration led by the Deputy Commissioner anticipated the return of many natives of Udupi district from other places including Mumbai and Gulf countries where a sizeable population has migrated for employment. Realizing the enormity of this problem very early, they sought the help of the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) for patient care. MAHE dedicated one of its hospitals in the heart of Udupi as a COVID-19 hospital, with additional human resources and supplies to face the challenge. Not only that, MAHE even announced free treatment for all COVID-19 patients. With this arrangement, Udupi rose to the occasion to meet the challenge of COVID-19.
The common goal of this public-private partnership was to face the challenge of COVID-19, and the obvious limitations to overcome was that of the healthcare system, where even Italy and the US were struggling despite their relatively efficient and modern systems.
The district administration was very proactive in identifying, tracking, and quarantining the returnees. They tested the vulnerable returnees on priority and identified cases early. As early as April 17, the Udupi district topped the state of Karnataka in the number of samples collected per million population. As more and more natives returned, they efficiently collected hundreds, sometimes thousands, of samples per day, as per the prevalent testing strategy. As of 18 June, the Udupi district has crossed 10,000 tests per million population, which is more than double the current national-level testing of 4600 tests per million population.
Patient management was in designated hospitals based on the clinical category. Public hospitals and facilities managed asymptomatic and mild cases (category A). Dr. TMA Pai Hospital, Udupi, of MAHE, managed all the significantly symptomatic, vulnerable, and sick patients (category B and C), as MAHE had the facility and expertise for managing critical cases.