As COVID spreads fast, pressure mounts on Karnataka health facilities

The healthcare infrastructure in the state is not suited to handle this kind of a pandemic, and the government seems unprepared as patients scramble for hospital beds, ICUs and ventilators

Unable to find hospital beds in urban centres, people are now hunting for hospital beds in rural areas. Doctors said that many reach rural hospitals in critical conditions and the system is unable to support them.

Karnataka on April 28 recorded about 39,000 new COVID-cases, the highest-ever single-day spike since the pandemic outbreak last year. The state currently has about 3,28,884 active cases. About 16 per cent of the overall 15,036 COVID deaths occurred in April 2021.

While the state government imposed a 14-day curfew starting April 27 and restricted the movement of its citizens, many people have migrated from Bengaluru to towns and rural areas fearing the lockdown may hurt their livelihood. This has led to concern among the district healthcare workers that it would add pressure on the primary healthcare centres in the districts, which may not be able to handle the spike in cases.

The transport department estimates that nearly 3 lakh people are said to have left the city this week. Already, districts like Mysuru, Kolar, Mandya, Hassan and Ballari, which reported cases in double-digit numbers are now witnessing over 1,000 cases a day.

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“Last time, the government contained the spread by enforcing a lockdown and restricting people’s movement. But it affected poor people who lost their livelihood. This time, the government thought ‘let’s live with the virus and not hurt the livelihood of people and hence has allowed certain activities,” said Dr CP Nanjaraj, dean and director of Mysore Medical College and Research Institute (MMCRI).

However, in his view, the government should have given financial aid to people and asked them to stay indoors. Or else, they would end up stepping out to work or to their hometown to find ways to earn and live.

In Renuka, a domestic worker’s case, she was going back to her village to be able to save expenses. “If we return to our village, we would spend less. And, we feel it’s safer in our village since the cases have gone up in Bengaluru,” said Renuka, who has gone off to her native village in Hubli, with three other family members on the day the curfew was announced.

During the first wave in India, when the migrant crisis erupted across the country following an uninformed lockdown, the government tracked the movement of people by asking them to register on the labour department portal and issued e-passes. The courts also upheld their rights to move from one state to another. But this time, they have not been asked to register and people are continuing to leave the city in panic. The government too is not keeping track of their movements.

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With the steady inflow into villages and small towns, several taluk hospitals in Mysuru district are already packed to their full capacity.

With the lockdown, Karnataka, which was expecting a peak in COVID-19 cases on the second week of May, now foresees that it may peak by May end. Anticipating a spike in cases in the coming weeks, and to reduce the burden on crematoria in the capital city of Bengaluru, the revenue department has allocated 230.25 acres of government land for cremation.

In the second wave of COVID-19, the virus is doubly virulent and the infections are multiplying at a faster rate. Even as patients scramble for hospital beds, ICUs and ventilators, across the state, the dean of MMCRI, Nanjaraj also expressed concern over the fact that a lot of support staff and healthcare workers were getting infected. This has led to fear many group-D workers who were hesitating to report to work.

“The hospitals are really short-staffed and doctors are stretched beyond their limits. They are in a lot of distress too. It’s getting difficult to find one nurse to manage 20 beds in general wards and one nurse to manage 10 ICUs (intensive care units),” he said, adding that they desperately needed qualified nurses and lab technicians.

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Experts said the healthcare infrastructure in the country is not suited to handle this kind of a pandemic – and at this scale. Unable to find hospital beds in urban centres, people are now hunting for hospital beds in rural areas. Doctors said that many reach the rural hospitals in critical conditions and the system is unable to support them.

While the experts continue to research the double and triple mutant variant of the coronavirus and how they behave, Nanajaraj pointed out a worrying trend. Out of 10-15 test results which were negative for COVID-19 in the RT-PCR tests, a CT scan of the patients however revealed they were infected by the coronavirus.

“Many patients think they don’t have COVID and go home. But they develop complications after a couple of days, and by then their condition becomes critical as their health condition would have deteriorated,” he added.

According to public health experts, doctors should treat patients based on the symptoms and not wait for the COVID-results to come in, which in today’s scenario takes three days.

“Mutations are still being analysed and different strains are being noted already in different parts of the country. So, the government should anticipate and learn from their earlier mistakes, and improve spending on public healthcare. We cannot wait for disasters to happen and then react,” said Dr Sylvia Karpagam, a public health doctor, researcher and activist In Bangalore.

Meanwhile, in Bengaluru, the fever clinic, which was opened during the first wave, specifically to address people who had a fever and other symptoms, as the first point of contact, remained shut. This has forced patients to walk into district hospitals or private hospitals and wait in queue and risk infection.

With lack of care and treatment, several patients were trying to escape from hospitals, while those under home quarantine were not responding to government calls.

“I feel that at least 2,000 to 3,000 people in Bengaluru have switched off their phones and left their houses. We don’t know where they have gone,” stated Revenue Minister R Ashok,  expressing concerns over the lack of contact tracing and the inevitable spread of the virus if infected people were moving around in the population.

 

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