Ventilator fiasco

Stock-taking, unfortunately, starts only once the blame game for the mess reaches the doorsteps of those in charge. Brought to its knees by the second wave of Covid-19, the public health system has a lot of answering to do on why and how the available life-saving devices could not be put to use, resulting in avoidable deaths. Media reports have pointed to scores of ventilators, manufactured under the PM Cares Fund last year, lying unused at government facilities across the country; several had not even been unpacked till some time ago. Some states, including Punjab, have now put the onus on the manufacturers, claiming faulty and unreliable functioning of the devices. The makers say minor adjustments by their engineers could have resolved the issues, while hinting at technical inadequacies at the facilities.

Several questions deserve answers. Why should quality-tested machines encounter glitches or fail the test of trust and reliability? Who failed to raise the red flag? Who chose not to respond timely to calls for repairs or technical assistance? Why the casualness all around? Why should there be a shortage of technicians trained to operate sophisticated machines? Over 4,000 is the daily recorded death toll. There is no time to lose, the only way forward is to quickly set the house — however disorganised and chaotic — in order. Get the devices running as fast as possible, make contractors duty-bound to have maintenance staff on call, ensure the doctors’ apprehensions are addressed, and hold emergency training sessions.

PM Cares Fund has been mired in controversy over the lack of transparency surrounding it. It is difficult to fathom the hesitancy in making public the priority and account sheets, but the ventilator fiasco does demand accountability — from the manufacturers, the Centre and the states. When public welfare is the goal all three swear by, clearly something is missing. As the country prepares for the third wave and foreign aid pours in, it would be a colossal disaster if the institutions falter in course-correction on even basics.

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