Handling infrastructure development for years, Suresh Kakani had no experience in the medical field when he joined as the additional municipal commissioner in the BMC in January 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Thrown into the thick of things, he used his experience and insights from his previous assignments in disaster management to help pull the city through dark times. He said he utilised his skills and knowledge from his 2015-17 stint in Nanded, which fought a massive flood right after emerging from a drought.
Born and raised in Vidarbha, Kakani was a rank holder in MPSC. Before joining as the chairman of the Maharashtra Airport Development Company Ltd, he served as municipal commissioner of the Mira Bhayandar Municipal Corporation, and then as CEO of Solapur and collector of Nanded.
You have seen the peak of the pandemic and endemic stages of Covid-19 in your tenure…
It was a challenging position, but I believe that every disaster throws up opportunities for upgradation, improvement and management of the system. We could integrate all the health sectors and focus on key areas like strengthening the primary sector, and upgrading the secondary sector by providing good healthcare facilities so that more manpower can be available and more surgeries can be performed.
Was it difficult being a non-medico person?
One requires a certain time to adjust and understand all the work, but the pandemic did not give me time to settle in. I had an outline in mind and how to make use of it and how the system should be channelled. It became easier after rounds of discussion with the team, but still tremendous efforts were required.
What challenges did you have in bringing all the stakeholders under one roof?
There were instructions from the Indian Council of Medical Research that people older than 55 should stay away from the infected cases but most senior and specialist doctors were over 55 years of age. But I saw that we could involve them by asking them to discuss the treatment protocol, critical patients, and to come out with innovative ideas.
How did the scenario change?
Even though the resources were there, initially no one was aware of the number of cases, how the infection spread, the treatment protocol, and the drugs required. Then the focus was on ICU beds and ventilators, which were not required initially. It only came up later than people were succumbing as the infection was spreading to the lungs.
With this, X-ray and CT scans started all over the country. We procured 12 mobile X-ray systems to visit slum areas. Due to the lack of radiologists, we incorporated in our system an IT agency through which artificial intelligence could be used to read X-rays.
How did you strike a work-life balance? How did your family support you?
I had a positive approach toward everything which helped me sustain in the long run. I always believed that work should be done with full dedication and self-belief so it does not affect mental health. I kept all the negativity away.
After my work hours, I did yoga and followed a proper diet. For the family, it was a little scary in the beginning. But they gradually got used to it.