The topic of vaccination has been the new poster boy of Indian media since the first Indian, Manish Kumar received the first dose of the vaccine in AIIMS, Delhi on the 16th of January 2021.
When exuberant TV presenters and politicians locked horns over the issue of vaccination, then this young and active administrator hatched a marvellous plan to pace up the vaccination drive in East Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
Dr Kinny Singh, a doctor turned IAS with her team of officials worked hard and achieved the goal of vaccinating a lion share of the population of the district located on the north-eastern tip of the country.
Twenty-three percent of the netizens and eligible adult population has also received their second dose.
We kept our ears open to understand the challenges that Dr Kinny Singh, IAS surpassed to keep the people of East Siang district safe from the wrath of the pandemic.
A doctor on the field
Dr Kinny Singh, a 2014 batch IAS officer from AGMUT cadre, feels being a doctor was satisfying but civil service has been a ‘dream come true’. Dr Kinny Singh, IAS has earlier worked as the MD of National Health Mission, Arunachal Pradesh. “Being a doctor gave me a head-start in this profile. It helped me to understand the importance of public health programs and how they can be implemented,” she said.
The Ayushman Bharat program was rolled out in Arunachal Pradesh during her tenure in 2018. Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) is a centrally sponsored program which is an umbrella housing two major health initiatives, namely, Health and Wellness Centres and National Health Protection Scheme.
The Health and Wellness centres provide comprehensive health care, including for non-communicable diseases and maternal and child health services. Dr Kinny Singh played an effective part in developing these centers. Moreover, during her tenure, the routine immunization coverage in Arunachal Pradesh went up to 80 percent.
Priorities at East Siang
Being remotely located and facing the wrath of landslides and incessant rains for almost six months in a year, the main goal of the East Siang district administration had always been to ensure efficient delivery of public service, improving the education outcomes of the children, improving the health infrastructure and ensuring hygiene and sanitation in the district.
Since the district suffers frequent floods, disaster management is also one of the vital focus areas of the district administration. On top of that, the pandemic has made it even more challenging.
Taking on the virus
Dr Kinny Singh’s experience as a doctor has enabled her to understand how to respond to the pandemic effectively. “I could effectively collaborate and chart out our strategy with the District Medical Officer and Joint Director of Health Services,” she mentioned.
The second wave of the pandemic had wreaked havoc even among the rural population. People residing in rural areas are usually complacent and do not pay heed to Covid appropriate behaviour. The same was the case with the East Siang district. They even lacked thermometers and oximeters which are the most essential tools to deal with the deadly virus. Dr Kinny Singh thought that though people are in home isolation, not being equipped enough with basic tools will deter their recovery. “Checking the oxygen saturation level was an important part of our response strategy. Thus the availability of oximeters was crucial,” the Deputy Commissioner reasoned.
“We found that people residing at local areas usually visit the Circle Offices to avail various public services. Everyone knows where the Circle Office is located. So the Circle Offices were provided with an equipment bank called Covid Care Banks. The idea was that anyone who needs any medical equipment can borrow it from the bank and when they test negative they may return it,” the Deputy Collector shared.
It is interesting to learn that the Covid Care Banks were not funded by the government exchequer but through the fines collected while enforcing Covid appropriate behaviour in the district.
Ensuring mass vaccination
Dr Kinny Singh attributes the spirit of teamwork to the excellent outcomes of vaccination. Since the start of the pandemic, the District Core Committee used to conduct weekly meetings to strategize on issues like vaccination, Covid appropriate behaviour, contact tracing and treatment protocol. “Everyone was sure that vaccination is the only solution to the pandemic since it reduces mortality. Hence, vaccination at a rapid pace was on our minds since the beginning,” the Deputy Commissioner said.
An effective vaccination strategy was formulated and daily updates on vaccination were taken. After a point when it was felt that people are hesitant towards taking their shots, they were given various incentives like providing transportation services to and from the vaccination center and door-to-door services.
However, the most striking perk was the Rice For Vaccine campaign. Through this campaign, the district administration decided to distribute 10 kilograms of rice to anybody who comes to get vaccinated. This campaign was also funded from the fines collected from the enforcement of Covid appropriate behaviour. The district administration also engaged with several NGOs and elected PRI members and ward councillors to mobilize people for vaccinations.
Fake News in social media about the ill effects of vaccines has been leading to vaccine hesitancy in many cases. East Siang district faces this issue as well. “There was an incident when we caught a rumour monger who was spreading fake news about vaccines. We talked sense into him and made him the brand ambassador of vaccination for that particular area.”
In some areas surprise games were organized and the elderly were presented with Maggi, chocolates and other prizes. “We noticed that the elderly population and even those above 45 years of age were more forthcoming and disciplined than the younger age group,” the Deputy Commissioner informed.
Revamping the health infrastructure
The East Siang district is focused on vaccinating its population to prevent itself from another wave of the pandemic. However, the district is also well equipped in the treatment aspect. A dedicated Covid hospital has already been set up in the district and bed capacity has been increased to 50 from 8. The maximum bed occupancy till now has reached 16. Two oxygen plants have also been set up and two more are in the pipeline.
“As experts suggest that the third wave of the pandemic might impact children, we are hopeful that children will soon be eligible to take the vaccines. We have observed in the field that vaccination goes a long way in decreasing mortality,” Dr Kinny Singh, IAS said.
Dr Singh’s family has been extremely supportive and her husband and kid are always with her. This helps her deliver the best in the demanding job of a Deputy Commissioner.
For all the doctors who are aspiring to be civil servants she has a message to share – “I would like to congratulate all doctors for choosing a profession in which they can serve the public. When you study medicine you get to know about the human body and human behaviour. The empathy which needs to be present in an administrator is already inculcated in doctors. Civil service offers you the wide spectrum for helping people from outside the medical facility as well.”