India is not equipped to tackle a full blown epidemic: Former health secretary K Sujatha Rao

22 March 2020
Adnan Abidi / REUTERS
Adnan Abidi / REUTERS

Kanuru Sujatha Rao served as the secretary of the ministry of health and family welfare from 2009 to 2010. Prior to that, Rao was the director general of the National AIDS Control Organisation, a division of the health ministry that is at the apex of the HIV/AIDS control programme in India. She has represented India on the boards of the World Health Organisation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Rao is also the author of a book on healthcare in India, titled, Do we care?:India’s Health System.

In an interview with Tushar Dhara, a reporting fellow at The Caravan, Rao spoke about India’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s current protocol for testing. “By not doing tests we may be under reporting or missing out on cases,” she said. “The more you increase access to testing, the more robust the strategy and greater the control over the epidemic.”

Tushar Dhara: Where does India stand currently with regards to the spread of COVID-19?
Sujatha Rao: If you go by government figures, it’s doing well. Compared to other countries, we seem to be containing the infection. We now have 315 cases, which for a population of our size is not bad. [According to health ministry figures at 8 pm on 22 March, India had 329 active COVID-19 cases.] Given that around the world, nearly three lakh people are infected and the fact that we are a highly populated country with not much of a public health system, we seem to be doing well. This is good, if these figures are right. But, there are doubts on these figures as there has been inadequate testing—about 10 per million population.

Tushar Dhara is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. He has previously worked with Bloomberg News, Indian Express and Firstpost and as a mazdoor with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan.

Keywords: COVID-19