Patna: Doctors and paramedics, already battling COVID-19 in Bihar, have opposed the Election Commission’s decision to deploy them as polling staff to conduct the upcoming assembly elections in the state.
Healthcare professionals said that while ignoring an acute shortage of doctors and members of paramedical staff, district election officers have enlisted them for polling duty, and issued orders for their training. The move has evoked anger among doctors and paramedics.
According to official estimates, more than 6.5 lakh officials, including security personnel, will be deployed to conduct polls in the state. All of them will be assigned poll-related duty after the Election Commission of India (ECI) announces dates for the elections. The announcment is likely to happen in mid-September.
Ahead of the polls, doctors and paramedics have demanded the state government, the election commission and the state’s chief electoral officer that they keep them away from polling duty and encourage them to focus on fighting against COVID-19.
Bihar Health Services Association (BHSA) and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Bihar, said doctors and paramedics should not be deployed on poll duty as it will hamper testing, tracing and treatment of patients.
Bihar Health Nursing Association also expressed its dismay over the likely deployment of nurses for election duty. “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not at all proper to deploy doctors and paramedical staff on poll duty. It will be an injustice to patients and contempt of the Patna High Court’s order as well,” BHSA chief spokesperson Dr. Ramrekha Prasad said.
Prasad said that the Patna HC, in a verdict in response to a PIL, directed the Election Commission to keep away health workers, including doctors and paramedical staff, from poll duty. However, district election officers have issued poll-duty training for them.
Dr. Sunil Kumar, secretary of IMA Bihar, said the organisation is against deploying doctors and paramedical staff on poll duty. They should not be engaged in polling duty since emergency situations arise while dealing with COVID-19, he said.
He added that there is an acute shortage of doctors, and that those on duty are stressed and exhausted because of long hours of work and no rest. “Our demand to appoint doctors against the pending sanctioned posts has hardly been fulfilled till date,” he explained.
Dr. Ajay Kumar, senior vice-president of IMA Bihar and former president of BHSA, said that medical or healthcare workers should be allowed to concentrate on the treatment of COVID-19 patients. “The state is already facing a shortage of doctors and paramedical staff. In such a situation, they should not be forced to join poll duty at the cost of neglecting healthcare duty,” he said.
According to the health department's own data, there is a shortage of nearly 7,800 doctors,13,800 nurses and 1,500 pharmacists against sanctioned posts. As per official figures, there is a shortage of 4,300 general duty medical doctors and 3,500 specialist doctors.
Bihar has reported the highest number 23 doctors’ deaths due to COVID-19 – at 23 – and more than 450 doctors have tested positive in the state, said Dr. Kumar. He admitted that there was no record of paramedical staffers having tested positive.
However, Bihar Health Secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh claimed that the number of COVID-19 cases are declining as testing had increased. He said that on August 15, Bihar had reported 3,536 new cases, while on September 4, the state reported 1,978 new cases, taking the total number of cases to 144,134 and 728 deaths.
Bihar has been testing more than one lakh samples every day since August 13. Most of these tests are being conducted with rapid antigen detection kits. As of now, Bihar has conducted more than 35 lakh tests.
According to the official Twitter handle of the Health Department, the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state were 18,429 as of September 4.The recovery rate in Bihar is said to be 87.91% – more than the national average – while the positivity rate also remained lower than two percent.