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Kuwait, India share strong bonds, explore ways to further boost ties

Team of Indian doctors visit cements relations

On April 11, 2020, a team of 15 Indian doctors and healthcare professionals reached Kuwait at the request of the government of Kuwait to supplement its efforts in the collective fight against the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

India’s 15-member rapid response team

The deputation of Indian medical experts followed the phone call between Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, and H.H. Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Prime Minister of the State of Kuwait in which both leaders agreed for a concerted and coordinated effort against the global pandemic. Subsequently, Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar and his Kuwaiti counterpart held a telephone conversation to discuss the prevailing situation in Kuwait.

They explored ways to further strengthen cooperation during these challenging times leading to the dispatch of the rapid response team. As of April 30, 2020, there were a total of 33,050 COVID-19 cases in India with the recovery rate rising to 25.13 per cent from 13 per cent two weeks back.

Although there is no sign of the pandemic abating in big Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, and Ahmedabad, the scale of the outbreak in India is dwarfed by the United States or large western European powerhouses where thousands have died since the virus spread.

“As compared to many developed nations, India is in a much better position due to its holistic approach and quick decisions. When India had 550 coronavirus cases, we went for a 21-day lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus,” PM Modi said in a statement earlier.

The lockdown in India has been further extended to May 3. Apart from fighting the pandemic at home, India is also playing an essential role in pushing for a common framework in fighting the virus in the SAARC region.

Consistent with that India sent a 14-member Indian army team to the Maldives in March to help the island nation set up coronavirus testing laboratories and train local medical professionals fight the pandemic. In April, India also dispatched humanitarian and medical aid to neighbouring countries including Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh to help boost those countries capabilities to deal with rising cases of coronavirus.

Kuwait and India share a strong bond based on historical, cultural, economic and people-to-people-contacts. In keeping with its policy of extending a helping hand to friendly countries in its immediate and extended neighbourhood, India reached out to Kuwait to further complement its efforts to fight the pandemic effectively.

The 15-member rapid response team of the Indian Army is led by Brigadier (Dr) Deepak Sreevastava, an anaesthesiologist with 30 years of experience who is Consultant and Professor of the Dept of Anaesthesiology of Base Hospital, a 1,000 bedded hospital of the Indian Armed Forces Medical Services.

In a career spanning 32 years in Indian Army Medical Corps, Brigadier (Dr) Deepak Sreevastava has worked at top level hospitals including several large army hospitals, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences New Delhi, and the Royal Children Hospital Melbourne Australia. As a recipient of the coveted Commonwealth Fellowship in Liver Transplant Anaesthesia, he also trained in liver transplant anaesthesia at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, UK. The receiver of several military awards, the Brigadier is also a prolific speaker and writer.

Here, in an exclusive interview with the Arab Times, Brigadier (Dr) Deepak Sreevastava shares the work and experience of India’s Rapid Response team in Kuwait.

Arab Times: What led to the arrival of the Rapid Response Team from India to Kuwait on April 11?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: The Government of India has been actively fostering alliances with its neighbours and establishing bridges in various areas to move forward in synergy. Kuwait is a friendly nation and shares historic ties with India. In synchrony with the foregoing principle, to bolster the relationship between the two countries further, cooperation in the defence sector has been pursued in the preceding years. Presently, against the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic, discussions at the ministerial levels underscored the need to augment the medical resources of Kuwait Defence Forces. This resulted in the formulation of the current medical team, which arrived in Kuwait with a mandate of assisting in COVID-19 Testing and Capacity Building on April 11, 2020, for two weeks.

AT: What is the scope of the collaboration? We have heard that the team has provided training to medical personnel – what sort of training has taken place?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: The scope includes assisting in COVID testing and capacity building. The team after having visited various medical establishments of the Armed forces and those under the Ministry of health, planned a training schedule along with hands-on workshops on various topics, such as Intensive care management and laboratory testing facilities, managing cases in the operation theatre, planning an OT, use of ultrasound and infection prevention and control (IPC) measures etc. to handle the threats arising from the pandemic. We are also exploring the possibilities as to how medical staff from India can be engaged to work in the hospitals here to augment the medical team.

AT: Who are the members of the Rapid Response Team?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: Apart from me, the other members include a senior anesthesiologist, one specialist in Intensive Care Medicine, a public health specialist, a respiratory physician, a microbiologist, two medical officers along with seven paramedical staff.

AT: Did the team also bring in material help in terms of medicines and supplies?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: Yes. The team has brought in a PCR Machine along with testing kits which is used for testing the swabs for COVID–19.

AT: India has sent medical aid to neighbouring countries in this critical time. But is Kuwait the first country to receive help in terms of medical personnel?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: India has been sending its military medical teams regularly to several UN Missions. In the current context, another rapid team was dispatched to the Maldives on March 9 with a similar purpose. Some of the members of the present group have been drawn from the team to the Maldives. Kuwait is the second country where a team has been sent. India has sent medical supplies to many countries during this outbreak and continues to assist everyone in this time of need.

AT: What is the initial assessment of the RR team of the ground situation in Kuwait?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: The situation as assessed on the ground is satisfactory indeed. The number of cases has been rising; however, the rate of rising is slower than in many countries. At the same time, the hospitals both MoH, as well as Defence Forces, seem to be in an adequate state of preparedness and their approach to segregate COVID suspect cases is well organised.

AT: How has the work progressed since the team arrived in Kuwait?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: The team has had a productive time since its arrival. The training sessions conducted at the hospital were well received. The academic exchange that followed such sessions has been mutually rewarding. Besides, the visit has generated a tremendous amount of bonhomie amongst both the partners.

AT: How satisfied are you with the measures and safeguards that have been adopted in Kuwait?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: My team and I had the opportunity to visit both the hospital facilities, as well as the quarantine facilities. There is no doubt that the hospitals are well equipped to handle any clinical load, and the quarantine facilities are well managed. The hospitals are well placed to handle surge cases too. The message of social distancing has been well spread.

AT: Large numbers of Indians in Kuwait have been infected in recent weeks. What is the reason, and what can the community do to stop the numbers from increasing?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: This is indeed a cause of concern. However, as understood by the team by way of various interactions, the reasons can be ascribed to congregation in residential areas following stricter norms advised during this pandemic. However, it was heartening to see hospitals running information campaigns in Hindi and Bengali vernacular which are targeted at such expatriates. We are sure such measures will help. On our part, we have made an advisory on home quarantines which can be used to educate such groups. It has been shared with the Embassy of India in Kuwait.

AT: There are a large number of Indian doctors and nurses in Kuwait who are on the frontline. What would you like to say about their contribution to this very critical situation?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: I was very happy to meet Indian doctors and nurses during the visits. Their morale seemed to be high, and indeed, they were happy to see us too. I am particularly impressed with their involvement as I talked to them at work. My hosts in the Kuwait Defence Forces as well in the civil hospitals have been effusive in their words of praise for them, which of course made us all proud.

AT: Indians in Kuwait are also worried about the situation back home. Do you have any words of assurance for them?

Brig Deepak Sreevastava: Our government has been working tirelessly to contain the situation. The lockdown has been extended and is being strictly enforced. The doubling rate of fresh cases has slowed down. So while there is a lot of work to do, the situation is still very much under control. Meanwhile, the health infrastructure is also being upgraded at fast pace and hospitals are coping well with the cases so far. I understand their apprehensions. However, the response system of the government is very good.

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