Over 8.8 crore visits by patients have been recorded since February 1 at over 41,000 health and wellness centres (HWCs) made operational under the government’s flagship Ayushman Bharat scheme, The Union health ministry said on Friday. This is almost equivalent to the number of footfalls recorded in the previous 21 months — from April 14, 2018, to January 31, 2020, — despite restrictions on the movement of people during the lockdown period this year, it said in a statement.

In the last five months, 1.41 crore individuals were screened for hypertension, 1.13 crore for diabetes and 1.34 crore for oral, breast or cervical cancer, the ministry said.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, medicines were dispensed to about 5.62 lakh hypertension patients and 3.77 lakh diabetes patients at the HWCs in June alone, according to the statement.

As many as 6.53 lakh yoga and wellness sessions have also been organised at HWCs since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Health and wellness centres form the primary pillar of the Ayushman Bharat scheme envisaging to the provisioning of universal and comprehensive primary healthcare through the transformation of 1,50,000 sub-health centres and primary health centres into HWCs by 2022.

Giving an example of the contribution being made by HWCs in the fight against COVID-19 in Jharkhand, the ministry said that as part of a statewide intensive public health survey week, HWC teams screened people for influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) symptoms and facilitated coronavirus testing.

An HWC team at Subalaya in Odisha conducted health check-ups and created awareness among people about preventive measures for COVID-19 such as frequent handwashing with soap, wearing masks or face covers in public spaces and maintaining adequate physical distancing when interacting with people.

They also conducted wellness sessions for migrants at the temporary medical camps functioning as quarantine centres.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the resilience of health systems was reflected through continued operationalisation of HWCs and continued delivery of non-COVID-19 essential health services while also meeting the urgent tasks of prevention and management of COVID-19.

“Between the period of January to June 2020, additional 12,425 HWCs were operationalized, increasing the number of HWCs from 29,365 to 41,790,” the ministry said.

HWC teams have played a key role in ensuring that non-COVID essential services are provided to the communities.

Having undertaken the population-based screenings for non-communicable diseases, the teams have a list of those with chronic disease and are able to rapidly screen individuals with co-morbidities and provide advice for protection against the viral infection.

Immunization sessions are being organized by the HWC teams where medical checkups of pregnant women are ensured. Delivery of essential medicines to tuberculosis, leprosy, hypertensive and diabetic patients is also being undertaken by them.

Health and Wellness Centres have demonstrated that creation of a strong primary health care system closer to the community is critical to the delivery of essential primary health care services to the people while also responding to the challenge of managing a pandemic, the ministry said.

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