Patna: The state of healthcare infrastructure for testing, tracing and treatment of COVID-19 in Bihar has left people worried amid the rising number of cases in the second wave of the pandemic.
Despite the havoc wreaked by the first wave of COVID-19 in the state, the Nitish Kumar led NDA government does not seem to have made attempts to improve the healthcare infrastructure. The reality of this has been exposed by the series of incidents in two government run hospitals in the state in the last 24 hours.
In the first case, a 30-year-old COVID-19 positive youth was found dead in the toilet of Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) in Darbhanga district on Sunday, April 11, triggering angry protest by his family members. They smashed glass panes of windows and ransacked furniture, alleging that he was not provided proper treatment.
In the second case, officials of the Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH) on Sunday declared a living COVID-19 patient Chunnu Kumar, 40, dead and issued a death certificate. They even officially handed over a body to close relatives to cremate. Later, much to the shock of family members, they found that the body at the crematorium was not of Chunnu Kumar and PMCH confirmed that Kumar was in fact alive.
The second wave of the COVID-19 infection has spread fast and also claimed more lives on a daily basis. According to the official website of the state Health Department, COVID-19 cases have been rising many fold in the last one week. In the last 48 hours, more than 7,200 COVID-19 cases including 3,756 on Sunday along and 12 deaths have been recorded.
Also read: A Saga of Neglect: Bihar’s Premier Hospital DMCH Turns Into a Virtual Death Trap
“If not checked in the next few days, the situation may turn worse,” a senior health official said.
Bihar’s poor health infrastructure has grabbed headlines several times in the past few years. In April-May 2020, the first wave of COVID-19 had brought to the fore the loopholes in the existing infrastructure. Earlier in 2019, more than 150 children had died due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES).
Taking note of the government's failure to strengthen health infrastructure, Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav on Monday attacked the NDA government and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar by saying that the healthcare system is on its death bed.
He cited the latest CAG report to prove his words. “I have repeatedly pointed out that the health system is on the death bed. I have placed this in the state Assembly as well. Even the CAG report has vindicated my stand.”
Quoting from CAG report on the state, that was placed in the Assembly in March 2021, he pointed out that vacancies for physicians is 61%, dentists 69% and nurses 92%, per one lakh population. The CAG report also observed that against the construction of 12 medical colleges (including a dental college) taken up during 2006-07 to 2016-17, only two medical colleges became functional till 2018. Construction of only two nursing institutes could be completed till 2018 against the planned 61. “The Government of Bihar did not make effective efforts to increase seats of existing medical colleges,” the report further added.
It further said that the shortage of teaching and non-teaching staff in all streams of medical education ranged from 6 to 56% and 8-70%, respectively. Deficiencies have also been found in infrastructure of medical institutions, which also face shortage of medical equipment in 20 departments in test-checked five medical colleges (GMC Bettiah, DMCH-Darbhanga, IGIMS Patna, NMCH Patna, PMCH Patna).
Yadav said that for the last 16 years Nitish Kumar has been occupying the Chief Minister’s chair with the support of the BJP, but they are responsible for the poor state of health infrastructure currently. He alleged, “Whenever someone dares to question him over the ground reality, Nitish Kumar becomes angry or starts crying about jungle raj to hide his blunders and failures on health front.”
He also highlighted the state Health Minister Mangal Pandey’s habit of falsely claiming the development of health infrastructure in the state. “Over the last few years the state government repeatedly announced appointments for between 1,000-2,000 doctors, but it never happened. Most of the hospitals including those at district level, community health centre at block level and Primary Healthcare Centres are facing a shortage of doctors,” Yadav said.
Similarly, there are only 1,900 PHCs in the state against the required 3,470 and 150 community health centres instead of the 867 that are needed. There are nine government-owned medical colleges and hospitals including two in Patna and one each in Gaya, Darbhanga, Bhagalpur and Muzaffarpur districts.
What has also sent alarm bells ringing is that following the second wave of COVID-19, thousands of migrant workers from across the country have arrived at their native villages across Bihar due to fear of another lockdown. However, the state government has not taken enough precautions against the spread of the pandemic in the rural areas.
In the last five days, migrant workers arriving on special trains have flooded the railway stations in Patna, Muzaffarpur, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga and Gaya districts. Thousands of migrant workers are set to reach the state in the coming days in view of night curfew and the fear of a lockdown being imposed at any time in Mumbai and Delhi.
According to health officials, only one fourth of the migrant workers, mostly daily wage construction workers, security guards, cooks or those who worked in industry and factories and were compelled to return home after being rendered jobless in view of rising cases and tough measures enforced to check it, particularly in Maharashtra, Delhi and other states, were made to undergo tests. Most of them are neither in temporary isolation wards nor in quarantine in their homes.
After the sudden lockdown last year, millions of skilled and unskilled workers, drivers, and vendors were either rendered jobless or did not find any work, as per official figures. In Bihar, joblessness after the lockdown poses a great challenge with more than 21 lakh migrant workers returning to the state, as per official data.