At a time when the whole world is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is vital for the public to maintain a positive frame of mind while also behaving responsibly and observing all the precautions and guidelines issued by the doctors and administration. People are still taking the virus lightly, not wearing masks in public and flouting social distancing which is not the way to deal with the pandemic. The vice chancellor of Swami Rama Himalayan University (SRHU) and member of the presidential body of Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust (HIHT), Vijay Dhasmana said this in an online interaction with The Pioneer on Sunday.
He said, “Even developed nations are hassled by Covid-19 with reports on research work informing that the virus has mutated about 10 times so far. In such a situation, it is vital to avoid negativity as that also affects our immune system. One must have a positive attitude, patience and follow necessary guidelines. However, people are taking the virus lightly and flouting the guidelines. If people don’t behave responsibly, it is pointless to simply blame the government for the outcomes.”
Regarding what the HIHT has been doing since the start of the pandemic and the challenges he foresees, Dhasmana said that thousands of ration packets were distributed to daily wagers and the poor in various locations during the lockdown. “At our hospital, we have made arrangements in a separate building for Covid patients. There is no major medication for such patients who basically need monitoring and isolation. However, about 40 per cent of the Covid patients we receive need oxygen, which I think could be a big challenge in the future with more patients needing oxygen. Since there are no big hospitals in the mountainous regions, such patients might also come down to the plains for treatment. Arrangements will have to be made for more oxygen and only patients with severe symptoms should come to the hospital. Those with no or minor symptoms should stay under home isolation on the doctor’s advice. However, presently, the biggest challenge is public behaviour- people should not behave irresponsibly when we are fighting an invisible enemy. It is upto us to be aware and take care of ourselves to avoid getting infected and if one gets infected then one must ensure that others aren’t.”
The founder of HIHT, Swami Rama was guided by the will to serve society through the institutions. However, some perceive that now these institutions have become commercially inclined. Responding to this, Dhasmana said, “Assumption and presumption are also diseases. Our institution is a result of Swami Rama’s penance- it wasn’t, isn’t and will never be a commercial institution as our main motive is service. At our hospital we have about 3,000 people working. Our monthly expenditure on salaries alone is about Rs 15 crore while another Rs 15 crore is needed to meet our operational expenses. We recently calculated that in our general ward the cost we incur per day on one bed is Rs 1,100 but we are charging Rs 400 from the patient while also providing three meals apart from the services of doctors and nurses.
There is no pressure on our doctors to meet revenue targets so there are no unethical practices, unnecessary tests or surgeries. We provide treatment worth upto Rs 10 crore every year free of cost. Our hospital has treated the maximum number of people under the Ayushman Bharat scheme in India. Last year we awarded scholarships amounting to about Rs 15 crore. We are working in 2,000 villages in the mountains on health, education and income generation. We also provided drinking water connections in 450 villages and helped build 14,000 toilets. An institution focused on profits and guided by commercialisation would not do all this. However, we do need money to sustain ourselves and work on a no profit-no loss basis.”
Regarding future plans for SRHU, he said that a university should focus on the needs of the society and research for upliftment. “We want to turn youths into entrepreneurs, not simply prepare them for clerical jobs. We will collaborate with the United Kingdom’s Global Health Alliance and are planning to start some new courses soon. Our major focus is on how to improve the lives of those living in the mountains. Apart from this, we have a system in our medical college. We provide free education to the students who are selected but are unable to pay their fees. However, we make them sign a bond to serve in the mountainous regions for four to five years after completion of their studies.”
The SRHU VC further said that he considers the return of lakhs of Uttarakhandis to their villages and towns during the pandemic a big opportunity for all. “I tell such youths that it is much better to live in mountains than in constricted lanes in cities. We are descendants of very hard working people who carved out mountains to make farms and settle villages without any of the machinery available to us now. I believe it is vital to encourage agriculture, horticulture and floriculture along with tourism and wellness. We are planning to soon start training youths for homestays in the mountains. We will start with 100 youths from dozens of locations including Chakrata, Dhanaulti, Sem Mukhem, Tadkeshwar, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Harshil, Budha Kedar, Badkot, Kedarnath, Chopta, Mana and Urgam among other places. Our university will teach these youths the skills needed for a successful homestay venture. Apart from this we are also trying to encourage our traditional organic farming. Recently, I asked residents of 18 villages in the Toli area to supply the pulses they cultivate to us. We have about half a dozen messes, so we will buy these pulses from the farmers of the 18 villages.”