Telangana Health Minister, Etela Rajender in a candid mood, reveals his inner thoughts and lamentations openly in an open-free interview with #KhabarLive, recently.

Etala Rajendar, minister for health, medical and family welfare, is under much pressure. He’s busy working as per the guidelines of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, helping the state tide over the deadly Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic’s second wave caught the government by surprise as it has everyone else around. In a candid mood, Rajendar reveals his inner thoughts and lamentations openly in an exclusive interview with #KhabarLive.

How is the Covid situation in Telangana state today?
We are doing relatively better among states. You know the actual caseload here is lower. But the second wave has led to a steep rise, an almost 500 per cent growth. Challengingly, more than the actual scenario, it is the perception of a scare and panic that’s hurting. People are convinced there is a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen, and drugs like remdesivir. This is creating fear. A consequence is that people are hoarding some of these for their own safety and adding to the problem.

Are you saying we have enough of hospital beds, ICUs, ventilators, oxygen and remdesivir?
No, there is a shortage; a shortage of essentials. This is more of a distribution lacunae and black marketing efforts here and there. I assure you the scarcity of these in Telangana state is artificially created.

Is it your stand that one can easily get a hospital ICU bed in Hyderabad today?
No. I concede that almost all beds in all hospitals are full. But the private sector and corporate hospitals are filled with patients from outside Telangana state. Outsiders with money have come in and taken up the beds. In government hospitals, too, beds are all “taken up”. There is a crisis of ICU beds, ventilators and oxygen beds. We are addressing the situation. Very soon we will have a 350-bed facility up in Nacharam. It will be fully functional shortly. Even in Nims, we would soon add 550 additional beds. Hyderabad, in short, is doing better than most other cities.

How are we doing on vaccinations?
The vaccination drive is going on in a moderately satisfactory manner, but there are hiccups. The problem now is to get sufficient supply of vaccines. Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao is personally leading the initiative and has instructed the chief secretary to be in touch with vaccine manufacturers. We have had meetings but these companies are yet to agree to our request for supply of one crore vaccine shots.

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Is it legal for a state to make direct demands from companies — are not all vaccines Central government assets to be distributed by them to states?
The Centre has that monopoly in the vaccination of people above age 45, which is already underway. For the upcoming vaccine drive for those above age 18, states can directly negotiate and make purchases from companies. Alongside, the Centre also gives its share to states.

You have said we have enough of oxygen stock in Hyderabad and for all our needs in Telangana. How much manufacturing capacity do we have here? Is it adequate?
We have a capacity to manufacture 120 tonnes. The rest we get from other states. In view of the pandemic scene, we will increase the capacity.

When do you see the state going past the peak and Covid-19 tapering out or plateauing?
I am positive when I see the improvement in worst-hit Maharashtra. The cases have been coming down there for the past few weeks. I feel confident that given the heightened awareness —- and combined with it proper cooperation from people by way of following all the precautions — we will see Covid spread plateauing here too soon.

Your party, by fighting and winning a separate Telangana state — as also its government — gave us the vision of a Bangaru Telangana. Yet, how come we have put in so much effort to build a new Secretariat and never thought of building a single new government hospital in Hyderabad? Our best hospitals, the ones we are going to today, have been built by the Nizam or the previous state governments.
We are building a number of hospitals besides adding more capacity to the existing hospitals. Across districts, big hospitals came up after Telangana state was formed. Visit the new super-speciality hospitals that are on par with Gandhi or Nims in the districts of Suryapet, Nalgonda and Mahbubnagar. The AIIMS at Bibinagar is among the best.

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AIIMS is a Central government initiative. And, I reiterate, not a single new government hospital in Hyderabad — a city we boasted would be the hub of global medical tourism — since Telangana state came into existence.
The Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences (TIMS) is one such stellar initiative in Hyderabad. It may have come up by way of a response to the Covid-19 emergency last year. After the present phase of the pandemic, we will transform it into a world-class hospital.

Recently, a vernacular newspaper has exposed the corrupt practices of the staff at TIMS seeking bribes etc. The officials deny these, but we have proof and digital trails. Even the courts have intervened and said…
We have ordered an investigation. But I doubt if the staff is doing anything wrong. Maybe they helped patients buy some stuff.

You say there is no shortage of oxygen or remdesivir or any drug at TIMS. If so, why would the staff take money to get such from outside? And today, we have news that some officials at TIMS have threatened patients and their attenders for “daring to speak” to the media.
There is no shortage of essentials. Maybe they went out to buy vitamins and such other stuff a government hospital may not stock. Let us not focus on such concerns during this pandemic season. We have bigger problems to deal with.

On a different note, we at #KhabarLive highlighted the risk to lakhs of people because the State Election Commission declared and scheduled elections in the middle of the deadly pandemic. When the court directed the SEC to take a call on postponing the polls, given the health risk, the TRS government decided not to. This was despite the Opposition parties also seeking a moratorium. Did the government take the advice of the health ministry on such crucial matters?
I am not aware if SEC had asked my ministry about any such matter. In any case, compared to the elections across the country, or even the Assembly bypoll, these are small-time local elections. No big leader like the CM or ministers will go and hold rallies or meetings. I am sure it won’t be a problem.

You are an outspoken leader. I ask you this as a common citizen. Has the system at large not let down the country? Can we citizens not question you that — this, not as a representative of Telangana state government or the TRS party but as a senior member of the political system — if you have all not kept your promises? People say on social media that political parties can distribute black money and liquor during elections but cannot ensure oxygen, beds, medicine.
As an individual, I will acknowledge that we in politics have let down the country and its people. The coordination among various governments and agencies has not been good. We did not see this was coming, we did not anticipate it. We were not prepared. The Indian healthcare infrastructure has been exposed as being below par. Politicians have not risen to provide the kind of leadership the people expected. Our craze for elections, rallies, campaigns showed we were callous about the people’s health and lives. We put people in deep trouble as our health system was not equipped to face this situation. The trouble at hand exposes the reality. Covid-19 exposed our lack of quality and weak nature of the systems. We have clearly not respected people, their rights, and have betrayed their aspirations.

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But you must let me reiterate that Telangana state has done much better than the national average on all parameters. We responded better. But yes, we must rebuild the entire healthcare system and accord it the importance it deserves. Under Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s leadership, we will.

Hasn’t Telangana state deliberately under-reported cases and deaths to project itself as being one-up to the national average?
In the beginning, we had a protocol that deaths arising solely out of Covid-19 will be declared as Covid-19 deaths. In other words, deaths due to a mix of Covid-19 and other co-morbidities like a heart attack or diabetes will not be declared as a Covid-19 case. What is the need for us to hide or project our image during such an emergency? The only motive was to give hope to the people, to make sure they do not panic and see an end to the pandemic. We will do it. #KhabarLive #hydnews