Bihar govt’s inept lockdown handling leaves COVID patients in the lurch

Health experts allege that the state didn’t fully utilise the 70-day lockdown to improve health facilities, increase number of beds and open COVID-19 hospitals to cater to the needs of the patients

Health experts allege the whole situation has come to this passé as the state government didn’t fully utilise the 70-day lockdown period to improve health facilities. Photo: PTI (Representational)

Suman Kumar, a resident of Bihar’s Buxar district, rushed his wife to Sadar Hospital as she had labour pain. As the hospital refused to admit her, he carried his wife, in urgent need of medical attention, to a private hospital where she delivered a baby. But, as the newborn’s condition deteriorated due to respiratory problems, the hospital immediately asked Kumar to take the baby to the Sadar Hospital again.

Carrying an oxygen cylinder on the shoulder and critically-ill baby in a tray, the couple went around the hospital, urging doctors to start baby’s treatment soon. However, the hospital responded too late and by the time the treatment could start, the newborn had left for heavenly abode, even before experiencing the new world.

“I took my wife to Sadar Hospital for delivery but the hospital denied treatment. They referred us to a private hospital where she gave birth to a baby. The child was suffering from cardiac ailments. Instead of providing medical attention, the private hospital authorities provided us with an oxygen cylinder and tray and we were forced to carry our child back to Sadar Hospital,” said a wailing Suman.

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Incidentally, Buxur happens to be the home Lok Sabha Constituency of Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey.

Dr Ranjeet Kumar Singh, a senior doctor with the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), underwent a similar horror—something that he would never forget in his entire lifetime. When his 44-year-old diabetic wife fell sick, Singh hopped from one hospital to another located in the state capital to save her life but everyone refused to admit her although she was not a COVID-19 patient.

After being turned down by four big hospitals in a row, he finally reached AIIMS-Patna, seeking to admit her but was denied entry. After his repeated appeals, the patient was finally allowed to enter the hospital gate but, by then, she had died.

No less distressing is the third incident. Relatives of home department under-secretary Umesh Rajak rushed him to the AIIMS in Patna after he tested positive for COVID-19 but was denied admission citing lack of beds. Eventually, the patient continued waiting for his turn, lying on the floor for 24 hours.

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By the time he was admitted for treatment and the video went viral on social media, the patient’s condition had deteriorated alarmingly. Soon his body came out of the hospital.

Such scenes are very common in hospitals in Bihar these days as the number of COVID-19 patients surges alarmingly. Worried patients rushing to the hospitals in panic, getting admission after much effort and then condemned to live with the dead, amply exposes the situation on the ground.

What is appalling, Bihar has only four dedicated COVID-19 hospitals—AIIMS, Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH), both in Patna, Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital (JLNMCH), Bhagalpur and Anugrah Narayan Magadh Medical College and Hospital (ANMCH) at Gaya with total around 2,500 beds only for a total population of 12 crores. This can very well explain the seriousness of the situation.

But what has left patients in the lurch is the continuing fights between the top health officials and Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey. The minister himself raised the issue during a Cabinet meeting on July 25 when he said the health secretary didn’t listen to his advice. The revelation angered the Chief Minister so much so that he removed Health Secretary Uday Singh Kumawat the very next day.

A similar situation had arisen two months ago, after which the state government removed the then health secretary Sanjay Kumar. What is further strange, the incumbent health secretary Pratyay Amrit is already overburdened. Amrit will be holding additional charge of the disaster management department.

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Health experts allege the whole situation has come to this passé as the state government didn’t fully utilise the 70-day lockdown period to improve health facilities, increase the number of beds and open COVID-19 hospitals to cater to the needs of the patients. Instead, the state government shut down all the quarantine centres being run in schools and government buildings.

“During the lockdown period, people reaching Bihar by trains, buses or on foot were prohibited from rushing to their homes and were instead sent to the government-run centres for a mandatory 14-day quarantine. But, now, even the COVID-19 positive patients are being advised to stay at home. Well, you can imagine the situation,” said a doctor.

“The people of Bihar are dying for want of treatment but Nitish Kumar’s priority to somehow stay in power. Negligence of the government is costing the lives of the people in crisis. None looks serious,” alleged Bihar opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav.

In fact, the COVID-19 cases have turned very alarming. It took nearly 55 days to reach 1,000-mark in Bihar but then the number multiplied rapidly, and has gone out of control. The state, currently, reports around 2,500 cases every day with July having proven to be very disastrous for the state.

The tally that reached the 5000-mark on June 08 breached the 10,000-mark on July 02, then swiftly crossed the 20,000-mark on July 16 and the 40,000-mark in just 10 days on July 27. The infection rate in Bihar has touched 8.5 per cent which was recorded at 4.8 per cent in June. The first case was reported in the state on March 22.

Strangely, the numbers of tests being conducted is still very low in the state. Against the total population of around 12 crores, the total number of tests done in Bihar until July 28 is only 4,86,835 which comes to abysmal 0.0040 per cent. The state is also not following the WHO’s guidelines for conducting 140 tests a day per million population.

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Going by the guidelines, Bihar should have been testing at least 17,000 samples per day but until last week, it was conducting a little over 10,000.

Another concern is that the private hospitals are refusing to treat the COVID-19 patients, despite all efforts by the state government. Last week, Patna Magistrate Kumar Ravi had roped in 18 private hospitals, asking them to reserve at least 25 per cent beds for the COVID-19 patients. A good number of them, however, are yet to start treatment saying the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are reluctant to join duty.

“The state is giving an insurance claim of 50 lakh to doctors at government hospitals in the event of death due to coronavirus. Such kind of facility should also be given to them,” said Dr Alok, the director of a private hospital in Patna. According to him, some doctors and nurses are ready to work but ward boys and cleaning staff have refused to work.

Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey said the state government was working hard to provide treatment to COVID-19 positives.

“We are purchasing more and more equipment and starting antigen tests at primary health centres,” he said. According to Pandey, the government had placed an order for three lakh rapid antigen test kits, of which 2.11 lakh have already arrived. Similarly, Bihar health department has received 430 oxygen concentrators, while 320 others are on the way.

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