Five more children died of respiratory infections in West Bengal in the past 24 hours even as trappings associated with horrid memories of the COVID pandemic such as masks and desperation for hospital beds have returned to haunt people in the state.
With these deaths, adenovirus and other respiratory infections have now claimed 20 young lives in the past two months. Of these, 10 children died in the past three days, triggering concern of a fresh health crisis amid increasing caseloads in hospitals.
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Almost all the deceased were below five years and most of them were infected with adenovirus that causes mild flu-like illness, pneumonia, acute bronchitis, nausea, and other such ailments across all age groups, but children are highly vulnerable, health department sources said.
Cases rising among children
More and more children across the state are reporting to hospitals with these complaints, prompting the state government to issue a health alert, asking all the district administrations to ramp up paediatric-care infrastructure.
About 33 per cent of the total samples sent to the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases in Kolkata from across the state since January had tested positive for adenovirus, sources added.
The lack of paediatric-care facilities at the district-level is adding to the people’s woes. The state’s sole referral hospital for children, the 500-bedded Dr BC Roy Post Graduate Institute of Paediatric Sciences in Kolkata, has been forced to take more patients than its intake capacity. Many beds are shared by multiple patients, most of them kids.
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“There are three patients in some beds. Yet many are still queuing up to get their children admitted to the hospital,” said Krishnendu Biswas, who came to the hospital from Birati in North 24 Parganas district to admit his child. His six-month-old child had to be admitted to the ICU with symptoms of pneumonia.
Hospitals bursting at the seams
Around 80 children were admitted to the hospital on Monday and another 60 on Tuesday (till afternoon) even as the existing beds in the hospital are already occupied. “Around 1,000 children are admitted here,” said a doctor.
The scenario is no different at the Kolkata Medical College Hospital, where two children died since Monday. The hospital’s 120-bedded paediatric ward is fully occupied as also its 20-bed paediatric ICU.
To offload pressure from some of these hospitals which are bursting at the seams, the health department decided to set up new paediatric wards in some hospitals, including a 50-bedded ward set up at Infectious Diseases and Beliaghata General (ID&BG) Hospital in Kolkata.
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District hospitals were also asked not to refer patients to Kolkata unless it is absolutely necessary. A 10-point advisory issued by the health department on Tuesday evening said no doctor should refer any child without the permission of the superintendent of the hospital.
“We have scaled up paediatric infrastructure in all the district hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have sufficient equipment and manpower to treat the children in the districts itself,” claimed a senior health official.
Health infra has crumbled: BJP
A BJP delegation led by its spokesperson Archana Mazumdar, after visiting the Dr BC Roy Post Graduate Institute of Paediatric Sciences, said the health infrastructure in the state has crumbled. “Only buildings painted blue and white have been erected in the name of ramping up medical infrastructure in the state. However, these hospitals in the districts lack adequate manpower and equipment,” Mazumdar claimed.
Meanwhile, many schools in Kolkata have made it mandatory for their students, particularly those of primary section, to wear masks and carry hand sanitizers.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation on Tuesday made announcements in various wards asking residents to report any case of cough, cold and fever among children to nearby health centres. Virologist and professor at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine Dr Amitava Nandy said even viruses causing common cold and flu are creating complications since Covid has wrecked the immune system.