“Gods on Earth” a.k.a. doctors in Bihar are concerned about their safety and have been living in a state of panic, with the deadly coronavirus striking hard health professionals who are on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19.
Since a large number of healthcare professionals have been infected with the virus and the Bihar government has been ignoring their demand to reserve at least 50 percent beds for them in AIIMS-Patna, doctors have come forward to develop their own COVID care facility in the state capital to treat people from their community. They say the health system will be in danger if those leading the battle against the virus are ignored and not provided safety.
According to a report by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), Bihar, about 300 health professionals, including 150 doctors, have been infected with COVID-19 so far. What has caused panic among them is that as many as nine doctors—some of them being specialists in various fields—died due to the virus recently. These specialists include Dr NK Singh, ENT specialist, Dr Mithilesh Kumar Singh, former head of radiotherapy department – both from Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), Dr RR Jha, a prominent surgeon, Dr Awadhesh Kumar Singh, a senior physician, and Dr Mahendra Chaudhary, an orthopaedist.
Their deaths have prompted doctors to prepare a 50-bed hospital equipped with all facilities to treat only doctors infected with COVID-19 while efforts are underway to develop another such 50-bed facility at a different location in Patna. “We have been demanding to reserve 50 percent beds at AIIMS for infected doctors and health workers but the government didn’t consider our demand. So, we are now trying to mobilise our resources to develop a Covid care centre where doctors would be given priority in treatment,” IMA secretary Dr Sunil Kumar said.
A senior IMA official who wished to remain anonymous said the health sector had been completely ignored over the last 30 years in the state. “Neither did it (the health system) figure in the priority list of the 15-year-old regime of the Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi regime, nor was it accorded top priority during the 15-year-tenure of the current Nitish Kumar government. There wouldn’t have been a mad scramble among politicians, lawmakers and senior government officials to get themselves admitted to the Centre-managed AIIMS if this was not the case,” the IMA official claimed.
Former bureaucrat Afzal Amanullah, who served as the state health secretary earlier, is anguished at the prevailing state of affairs. “The state government has done nothing with regard to tackling COVID-19 in the past six months. Instead, the officials heading the health department are providing misleading information to people,” Amanullah said in a video message released on July 29.
The IMA is alarmed at the way doctors are steadily becoming victims to the virus one by one. The current situation is that a large number of doctors, health workers, and technicians working at all top hospitals across Bihar like the PMCH, Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH), Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Science (IGIMS), Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences (RMRIMS) – all at Patna, Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital (JLNMCH) at Bhagalpur, Anugrah Narayan Medical College and Hospital (ANMCH) at Gaya, and Sri Krishna Memorial College and Hospital at Muzaffarpur have been infected with the virus disease.
The gravity of the situation can be underlined by the fact that the laboratories of RMRIMS, AIIMS, PMCH, and IGIMS have to be shut at regular intervals for fumigation after doctors and technicians there tested positive for COVID-19. There are a total of about 20,000 doctors and 40,000-50,000 healthcare staff in the state, according to an IMA official, and a significant number of them getting infected with the virus everyday has shaken up officials.
“We didn’t know where to get ourselves admitted if we were to get infected by the virus. So we decided to pool in our resources and develop the Atlantis hospital in whatever manner we could. It is now ready,” Bihar Orthopaedic Association’s former secretary Dr Amulya Kumar Singh said.
According to reports, senior doctors lent financial support and donated equipment like ventilators, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), other machines and manpower to help the COVID care facility function properly.
In the past 30 days, COVID-19 cases have registered a four-fold increase, which has left health professionals unnerved. “More than 300 doctors and health professionals have been found positive for COVID-19 and the whole situation is worsening by the day,” said IMA’s senior Vice President Dr Ajay Kumar. “They (doctors and health workers) are getting infected for being in regular touch with the COVID-19 patients coming to the hospitals but the problem is that there is no proper testing for doctors, nor are they being given rest at certain intervals. If they are not given a break, they could prove to be super spreaders,” Kumar explained.