I am a doctor and a Covid warrior, but also an ordinary Indian citizen. I am also someone who has belief in your leadership. I am writing to you today because I feel helpless in all these roles, and desperately need the guidance of the leader of our country. I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way.
I understand that no government is capable of facing the Covid-19 tsunami alone, and every able citizen needs to do his or her bit. We are already seeing phenomenal work by citizens going out of their way to help the distressed and needy. But these are frantic individual efforts in desperate times, Modiji. They are nowhere close to what we can achieve if we do things together in a more coordinated and scientific manner. And that is where you can make all the difference.
Currently, the world has united in trying to help India, but Indians still remain divided. All my WhatsApp groups have people bickering over various issues, without uniting to try and defeat our biggest enemy right now – the Covid virus. Luckily, India has in you someone who is one of the world’s finest and most effective communicators. Your regular national addresses during the first lockdown were carefully listened to by supporters and detractors alike, and were a great source of positive energy. We now need you to similarly help fight the panic and dismay all Indians are feeling right now, and unite us all in our common fight by spreading the right information and message.
Please come on the evening primetime slot on national television and speak to everyone, every single day. Please do not spend time talking about the extent of the current crisis nor about what the government has done till now to help. We know everyone has tried their best. Instead just talk about solutions, about what we as a country need to do now.
Just one request though. Remember that international experience shows that Covid can only be defeated with facts and science. Superstition, religious beliefs, nationalism – none of these work against the virus. So this time please stick only to science.
Give us a plan of action with honest targets and exhort all of us to do what we can to help out in implementing this on a war footing. Give us the date by when the oxygen and medicines shortage will be actually fixed. Urge those hoarding drugs and oxygen cylinders or concentrators to give them to the nearest hospital, and promise them they will be taken care of if they ever need one. A not so light-hearted suggestion is to ask them to take selfies doing so and post them online to make this gesture spread like wildfire.
Grand vaccination scheme
In your last national address, you had requested societies to take the lead to ensure Covid appropriate behavior. This time, appeal to them to volunteer in relief efforts, perhaps by collecting funds for food or masks or oxygen concentrators or simply to fund the hospital bills of those who can’t afford them or the education of a recently orphaned child. Announce a grand vaccination scheme similar to America’s Operation Warp Speed. Give approval to the highly efficacious Novavax under clinical trial mode (the Serum Institute of India is making it – it is as much an example of our atmanirbharta [self-reliance] as Covishield is).
Announce a waiver of intellectual property rights for Covaxin, which has partly been funded by Indian tax payers, and allow anyone in the world to manufacture it. This would be another great step towards Vaccine Maitri or vaccine friendship. Get Home Minister Amit Shah to focus on Delhi just like he did the the last time when things had taken a turn for the worse. Show your broad-mindedness by praising the Mumbai model and asking all states to try and adapt centralisation of triaging and admissions. Change the narrative, Modiji, from one of despair to one of rebuilding and looking ahead.
Modiji, the misinformation pandemic which accompanies Covid is its biggest ally. Social media as also unfortunately governments across the board have been responsible for promoting superstitions and unproven techniques for prevention and cure of Covid-19. Only you speaking the actual facts directly to the public on national television can break these long-standing myths created by ourselves.
Identify our Anthony Fauci (we have many doctor and scientists who are as good as him in India) and get him or her with you on national television. Together, you can speak to the people on various aspects of Covid (take one topic every evening), from prevention to treatment to vaccination. Call it Swasth ki Baat if you wish to.
Do not indulge in self-praise on how our doctors are the best. Instead, use this opportunity to tell people that those who are menstruating or have diabetes or blood pressure or allergies can safely take the vaccine. Tell them that 80% of Covid-19 patients recover at home without needing 10 drugs and multiple blood tests or CT scans, but instead by just monitoring their oxygen saturation and doing the six-minute walk test. Give them scientific facts and action points to do and not do; and you will see people start emerging out of the current state of despair with positive action.
Modiji, just like Indira was India for many sometime back, you are India’s face right now. But a face not publicly visible just makes everyone more panicky. We need to see you and hear you, hear your plan, know our role in it, and understand when we can expect real improvement in the situation. We don’t expect magic Modiji, but at least let’s give it our best shot. We need you to speak up and man the responsibility we elected you for.
Dr Akshay Baheti is an associate professor in radiology at a hospital in Mumbai. Views are personal.
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