Patna: After terming the Bihar government's action plan to tackle second wave of COVID-19 “wrong”, the Patna High Court on April 29 issued an email ID for people to directly submit their complaints regarding a lack of oxygen supply to it.This is the first time when a court has directly intervened to ensure supply of medical Oxygen for COVID-19 patients in public as well as private hospitals.
Bihar is showing a rising trend of COVID-19 cases with 13,374 fresh infections on Wednesday. There are 98,747 active cases in the state at the moment and 84 people died due to COVID-19 on April 27.
The court came into action only after a three-member expert committee constituted by it to look into the ground reality of the health infrastructure in the state found the government's claims further from the truth. The government had submitted its action plan to the court last week.
The committee, in its report to the court on Wednesday, revealed that due to a lack of Oxygen supply nearly 1,000 beds were unoccupied in three major hospitals in Patna alone.As the shortage persists, these hospitals have not been admitting COVID-19 patients for treatment and have been turning away a large number of them daily.
According to the report, there are 1,750 beds at the government-run Patna Medical College and Hospital but only 106 beds were allocated to COVID-19 patients. The Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences has a capacity of 1,070 beds but only 122 beds are available for COVID-19 patients. Medanta hospital, with 500 beds, is yet to start treatment for COVID-19 patients since it has not yet been supplied with oxygen.
The court has directed the state government to ensure 24-hour Oxygen supply to all hospitals and asked for a fresh action plan.
The Oxygen crisis is a big challenge for thousands of COVID-19 patients undergoing treatment in their homes in isolation. People have been running from pillar to post for hours, sometimes ending up spending half a night on the roads trying to arrange for an Oxygen cylinder or get an empty one filled up, mostly unsuccessfully. The black market is also in operation.
The court also raised the issue of a shortage of doctors in the state and expressed its surprise over the large number of vacancies.
A CAG report on the state placed in the Assembly in March this year pointed out that vacancies for the post of a physician was 61%, dentists at 69% and nurses at 92%. The CAG report also observed that against the construction of 12 medical colleges (including a dental college) taken up between 2006-07 and 2016-17, only two medical colleges became functional till 2018. The construction of only two nursing institutes could be completed till 2018 against a planned 61.
“The Government of Bihar did not make effective efforts to increase seats of existing medical colleges,” the report added.
It further said that the shortage of teaching and non-teaching staff in all streams of medical education ranged from six per cent to 56% and eight per cent to 70%, respectively. Deficiencies were also found in the infrastructure of medical institutions, which also face a shortage of medical equipment in five medical colleges (GMC Bettiah, DMCH-Darbhanga, IGIMS Patna, NMCH Patna, PMCH Patna).
Over the last few years the state government had announced appointments for between 1000 and 2000 doctors, but that never happened. Most of the bigger hospitals, those at the district level, Community Health Centres (CHCs) at the block level and Primary Health Centres (PHCs) are faced with a shortage of doctors.
Similarly, there are only 1,900 PHCs in the state against the required 3,470 and 150 CHCs instead of the 867 needed. There are nine government-owned medical colleges and hospitals including two in Patna and one each in Gaya, Darbhanga, Bhagalpur and Muzaffarpur districts.
Bihar’s poor health infrastructure has grabbed headlines on several occasions over 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 state's healthcare system was on its "deathbed".
Unlike the first wave last year, COVID-19 has spread across rural areas in the state this time around.There are reports of COVID-19 patients in thousands of villages, people battling for their lives without proper treatment, not to mention about the unavailability of Oxygen for them. In the last week there have been more than 50 deaths due to COVID-19 reported in over half a dozen villages bordering Aurangabad, Arwal and Patna districts. However, it was hardly news.
A similar situation exists in rural parts of other districts as well.
However, what has people worried and 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 the fear of another lockdown. However, the state government has not taken enough precautions against the spread of the pandemic in the rural areas.
According to health officials, only one-fourth of the migrant workers, were made to undergo tests. They are 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 in other places, particularly in Maharashtra, Delhi and other states. Most of them are neither in temporary isolation wards or under 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 posed a great challenge with more than 21 lakh migrant workers returning to the state, as per official data.