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Drywalls: A sustainable answer to the need-of-the-hour healthcare infrastructure

Source: Construction Week

Date: 26 August 2020

Sudeep Kolte, VP, sales and marketing, Saint-Gobain India, Gyproc, on how governments must react to Covid-19

With the COVID-19 outbreak spreading across the country, India’s public health sector found itself firefighting an unprecedented health crisis. While industries across the country have been facing major impediments like healthcare workforce as well as the lack of funding, the government of India announced additional funding, new reforms and more healthcare targeted initiatives as a part of the Budget in 2020, in response to it.

The pandemic crisis transformed India’s conventional healthcare infrastructure by pushing investments from both- the government and the private sector. In an immediate resolution, the health ministry took over more than 200 healthcare facilities for COVID-19 treatment. Most of those facilities underwent infrastructural changes that meet COVID-19 treatment requirements, including social distancing, isolation and quarantine zones. Furthermore, all central government-run hospitals across 17 states have become dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, having adopted major changes.

From what was available, the authorities have undoubtedly resolved to immediate solutions like makeshift facilities. However, for over a decade, public expenditure on India’s healthcare has been a little over 1%, one of the lowest in the world, as estimated by the National Health Accounts. India has 0.7 hospital beds per 1,000 people with variations across states, according to the World Bank. Hence, the question that lies ahead is- how can India look at effective, long-term, sustainable infrastructure that is accessible to the larger population even after COVID-19?

Interestingly though the question did bring together industry experts and government authorities together to address different aspects. In terms of infrastructure, too, unique long-term solutions came alive that brought forward sustainable and modern building materials like gypsum plasterboard based drywalls, etc., now being used to create extensions to existing hospitals and care units. These clean and easy to install separations are best suited for quick construction and remodeling, and require limited labor for implementation. Furthermore, drywalls are also known for not adding any extra load on the overall structure.

In a recent phenomenon, due to a sudden surge in cases, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the Health Minister, ACS Health and other government officials converted an existing building in Surat into a COVID -19 Hospital using this technology. Certain sections of the building like wards, toilets, pantry, etc. were selected to create partitions or bifurcations using drywalls, with each area offering adequate space for every patient. The project saw successful conversion of more than 52000 sft space into a covid-19 facility well within 17 days, and the effectiveness of the effort has led many other state governments to consider replicating the same in more regions.

As a testimony, gypsum based drywalls technology has already found widespread acceptance amongst the private healthcare players. More than 25 private healthcare chains have already used Drywalls technology in one or more of their projects. With government driving strong healthcare infrastructure with numerous super-specialty hospitals and new AIIMS campuses across the country as a part of Pradhana Manthri Swastya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY), construction technologies such as drywalls would only help make these facilities further accessible to the masses.

"However, the next normal will demand refinement, which will help tackle the ripples of this pandemic. According to experts, this shift in preferences will also inspire the technicians to switch to more sustainable solutions that are flexible, cost-efficient, eco-friendly and less labor intensive."

The pandemic has served as a wakeup call for all to rethink theories and practices that are being carried forward. From building COVID hospital in a short period to converting residential/commercial space into functional COVID facilities, the infrastructure industry has played an important part in retorting to the crisis. However, the next normal will demand refinement, which will help tackle the ripples of this pandemic. According to experts, this shift in preferences will also inspire the technicians to switch to more sustainable solutions that are flexible, cost-efficient, eco-friendly and less labor intensive.

From a broader lens, this pandemic has proved two things- there is no one right solution to fight a phenomenon like this and that sustainable innovations go a long way in addressing requirements unique to each state or geography. This pandemic has paved the way for widening the possibilities to understand innovations that will possibly provide substantial upliftment to the healthcare and infrastructure ecosystem, if adopted permanently.