Lt Gen Kanitkar, who is the third woman to become a three-star general in the armed forces, is working round the clock to strategise and monitor steps to provide relief to COVID-19 patients.
Treating the current coronavirus wave like a war, the armed forces have launched operation “CO-JEET” to aid anti-COVID-19 efforts, like strengthening medical infrastructure and oxygen supply chains, as well as take measures to ensure mental wellbeing of people.
Besides medical therapy, patients need the reassurance that they will be fine and “in times of stress, if you have someone to talk to, it makes a huge difference”, said Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (Medical) Lieutenant General Dr Madhuri Kanitkar.
Lt Gen Kanitkar, who is the third woman to become a three-star general in the armed forces, is working round the clock to strategise and monitor steps to provide relief to COVID-19 patients. Often seen on the move and mingling with her staff, especially at the COVID-19 centre set up by the Defence Research and Development Organisation near the Delhi airport, Lt Gen Kanitkar told PTI that COVID-19 patients need reassurance that all will be fine and “I believe more in conviction therapy and making them smile”.
The second COVID-19 wave has put huge pressure on the country’s health system, with health facilities in several states reeling under a shortage of oxygen, medicines and equipment needed to treat coronavirus patients and also beds.
“Under the CO-JEET” plan, personnel of the three wings of the armed forces the Army, the Indian Air Force and the Navy have been pressed into service to help restore oxygen supply chains, set up COVID beds and provide help to the civilian administration in its fight to control the pandemic,” said the Lt General, whose post of deputy chief integrated defence staff (medical) comes under the Chief of Defence Staff.
Like every healthcare worker in the country, teams of personnel of the armed forces are also working round the clock, the senior officer said. “In addition to the ongoing COVID situation, most ex-servicemen are also coming to military hospitals. In cities like Delhi and Pune, we have made 400-500 bed hospitals purely for defence and ex-servicemen,” she said.
Efforts are also underway to provide additional beds across the country for mixed COVID-19 management, Kanitkar said.
Giving details about operation “CO-JEET”, Lt Gen Kanitkar, whose husband also retired as a lieutenant general from the Army making them the only couple to have reached the position, said that “undoubtedly this is a war like situation and every wing of the nation is doing its best as common citizens are affected by this pandemic.” She said the Department of Defence has created a COVID-19 Crisis Management Committee and “we are working on it on a war footing together”.
“CO-JEET stands for co-workers of all the three services who will finally achieve ‘Jeet’ (victory) over COVID.The whole team is working in a very energised way because a soldier is trained to fight under adverse situations and he doesn’t give up, we are not just doctors, we are soldiers,” the Lt General said. “We are totally charged up and working like that to provide care to defence personnel and relief to the civil administration,” she said.
On the shortage of oxygen, she said that “some of the military hospitals have their own oxygen generation plants. However, the present crises have shown that we need to further ramp up this facility and already around 46 oxygen generation plants are being installed at various places”. “Besides this, we have a capacity of holding jumbo cylinders and of oxygen concentration from fields,” the officer said and thanked the Indian Oil Corporation for extending support for transportation of oxygen. She highlighted the concerted efforts of all the three wings of the armed forces and their support.
“The IAF carried out a number of sorties to bring (oxygen cryogenic) containers from abroad besides putting on track the supply chain for oxygen,” Lt Gen Kanitkar said. The Indian Navy transported liquid oxygen to places like Andaman and Nicobar Island, Lakshadweep and the Indian Army gave its military coaches for carrying oxygen supplies to various parts of the country, she said, adding that around 200 drivers were pressed into service for ensuring smooth supply of the oxygen.
Lt Gen Kanitkar, who is a recipient of the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) and other awards, was recently at the Sardar Patel COVID Centre. “When I came to know that some of my own staff members have fallen sick due to the virus, I wasted no time in reaching out to them so that they understand that we are with them,” she said.
Spending nearly 16 hours at work, she, while thanking her husband for moral support, reasoned out her visits to COVID care centres, saying “I am trying to get to the ground not to look at the machines only but the man behind the machines and as always taught in the Army, I want to lead them from the front.”
At the centre she told members of her team who tested positive for the virus: “You see I am a paediatrician and a paediatrician does not grow beyond 15 years. You have everything — bread and butter — and I have only come to add some jam to your sandwiches and remind you that this too shall pass.”
“I am inspired by the quote of late President A P J Abdul Kalam who wrote ‘difficulties in your life do not come to destroy you, but to help you realise your hidden potential and power. Let difficulties know that you too are difficult,” the Lt General said.
Commissioned in the Army in 1982, Kanitkar was appointed as the dean of Armed Forces Medical College where she earned a nickname of ‘Rajmaata’.
When asked about it she burst into laughter and said “this is a fact that my team did nickname me this and that was because I always believed in finding solutions to the problem”. “The same principle is followed today because being a woman and a mother, you have eyes at the back to get out of the box ideas and it does help you,” she said.