Urvashi Prasad (MSc Public Health in Developing Countries, 2014) currently works as a Public Policy Specialist at the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), Government of India. In this COVID-19 alumni stories post we ask her how she has been responding to the pandemic, how it has affected her work and how India has been responding.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your work?
I work at the NITI Aayog which is the premier policy think tank of the Indian government, providing policy and directional inputs in a variety of economic and social sectors to central government ministries. The institution also works with state governments to facilitate and monitor the implementation of a range of policies and programmes. Given that we are now faced with a global public health emergency, the focus has shifted to defining the policy response during and in the post COVID-19 era. It is apparent that we cannot simply return to business as usual. The “new normal” will be characterised not just by challenges but also opportunities in areas such as digital health, telemedicine, supply chain management and design of workplaces.
How have you been responding to the outbreak?
To respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and contain its spread in India, the union government has constituted 11 empowered groups of officials for planning and ensuring implementation of strategies. These are in critical areas including augmentation of health infrastructure and human resource capabilities; supply chain and logistics management; coordination with civil society and private sector; technology and data management, as well as communication and public awareness. I am part of the team that is supporting the work of the empowered group responsible for preparing the medical emergency management plan for the country. The plan will detail the health system preparedness needs for tackling the outbreak in India, based on a variety of optimistic and pessimistic case-load scenarios. I have also been involved with facilitating the response efforts of various organisations in the private sector who are interested in supplementing the Government’s efforts through provision of medical supplies and technology solutions. Furthermore, I have participated in a series of talks and webinars to answer queries, as well as allay concerns with respect to the health, economic and social aspects of the pandemic.
How has your countries response to the outbreak affected your work?
India is currently going through a national lockdown, a key strategy for enforcing social distancing norms and breaking the chain of infections. While this phase is being utilised to gear up the health system across the country for responding to the pandemic, it has also thrown up challenges on the economic and social fronts, given that a significant share of the country’s workforce is in the informal sector. While the Government has announced various economic relief measures for addressing this situation, in unprecedented times such as these and given the sheer scale and diversity in a country like India, every citizen needs to step up and help those who are less privileged. In my personal capacity, I am supporting the efforts of several individuals and civil society organisations who are providing food, hygiene kits and income support to underprivileged families.
How has LSHTM’s training helped you during this outbreak?
Public health is a complex field to begin with and becomes more so when we are in the midst of a pandemic. It is natural to see a welter of information and data being shared at this time. Having taken courses in epidemiology and statistics at LSHTM, I feel well-equipped to make sense of the information that is available, including a number of epidemic modelling scenarios. My training at LSHTM has also helped me to understand various dimensions of evidence-based policy making including balancing trade-offs while prioritising and optimising resources. An appreciation of these nuances is especially important when working on the policy response to a global outbreak of this magnitude.