Chandrachur Singh

Being a premier university, DU has a pandemic responsibility it is not fulfilling. It must rise to the occasion to do its duty as academic institutions world over are doing.

Around 30 academics, a large number of non-teaching staff, and hundreds of family members of University of Delhi employees have lost their lives battling the deadly second Covid wave.

And while many are struggling to find a hospital bed, a prestigious national institute of respiratory diseases — the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute or VPCI, housed in the university campus — remains untilised. Equipped with state-of-the-art machines, most of its 100 oxygen beds remain unoccupied.

Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute VPCI Delhi
Photo Courtesy: Google Images

While both governmental and non-governmental agencies work hectically to ready makeshift arrangements — in tents, banquet halls, hotels, or wherever they can — authorities, neither at the university nor in the Ministry of Health, seem to have the foresight or the will to press VPCI into Covid-duty.

While the pandemic has overwhelmed our health infrastructure, the response from the University of Delhi, which takes pride in running not just the VPCI but also two medical and one nursing college, has been bewildering.

How else can one explain the proliferation of makeshift arrangements by RWAs, religious institutions and NGOs on one hand and the exclusion of permanent, effective and stable institutions such as the VPCI on the other.

A communication issued by the VPCI explaining its inability to get into Covid duty accepts that the institute has an oxygen plant, though with limited capacity, and 22 doctors out of a sanctioned strength of 32, about 11 nurses, three ward boys and three OT/ICU technicians. Significantly, the institute accepts that the oxygen facility available is directly connected to the ICU and non-ICU beds.

The institute’s reasoning for not being involved in Covid duties is, however, perplexing – the VPCI alludes to its single-building structure with only one exit/entrance gate. Paradoxically, though, the VPCI does claim credit for doing x-rays, blood tests, and even administering oxygen to the infected patients in isolation in the Emergency 2 area.

If the VPCI has two emergency areas then there is no reason why the institute cannot make arrangements to segregate the infected patients from those not infected. A number of small nursing homes and hospitals attending Covid patients are single-building structures with common entrance/exit facilities.

And lastly, having lived in the university for more than three decades, I can authentically say that the VPCI has three entrance/exit gates, and not one, as is being claimed.

DU’s duty

When universities world over have been gearing up in all ways to counter the pandemic — from carrying out medical research, to providing instruments, equipment, as well as staff to the local and regional pool of medics — being a premier university in India, the Delhi University must also make concerted attempts to rise to the occasion. Here are five things the university should do.

First, the administration should immediately set up a rapid response team comprising top university officials and senior experts from all its medical and nursing faculties. This is required to take stock of the many fragmented and disjointed efforts being put up by a few of its colleges.

This would allow the university to do a better assessment of the inherent structural strengths and weaknesses of the ongoing efforts. The authorities can then augment their capacities. Setting up a unified chain of command with access to a credible real-time information-communication system is also necessary to demolish the silos in decision-making.

Second, the university’s two spacious guest houses should be used to accommodate patients. Since the two guest houses are situated within meters from the VPCI campus, doctors and paramedics of the facility could be entrusted with care responsibilities of those admitted in these facilities. Serious cases could be shifted to the VPCI. In case of additional requirements, hostel blocks of colleges that exist as separate units can also be used.

Third, the university should immediately set up a centralised logistics centre and put all its transport facilities under its command. This centre could serve as a depot for collection and distribution of essential medicines and oxygen cylinders for patients under home isolation. Doctors and other medical staff from a centralised pool could be attached here to oversee the operations.

Fourth, attempts should be made to transform the World University Services Health Centres located in east, west, north and south Delhi into full-fledged vaccination centres. A cluster of colleges should be allocated to them where the staff members and their dependents could walk-in for vaccination.

Last, but not the least, the administration should immediately reach out to the families of the deceased university staff. The university should, at once, release interim grants and start the process of compensatory job allocations at the earliest. It would do well to reach out to the large number of ad hoc and guest faculty members, assuage their insecurities, and counsel stress.

This article first appeared in The Print | DU losing academic talent to Covid. University must rope in Patel Chest Institute on May 13, 2021.

About the author:

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Dr Chandrachur Singh is an Associate professor of Political Science at Hindu College, University of Delhi and a Visiting Professor at Kautilya School of Public Policy Hyderabad. Dr Singh is a guest author with IMPRI.