Patna: Bihar has witnessed a sharp spike in the number of those affected by COVID-19 recently and with fears of community transmission of the virus growing, the state’s primary health care remains in bad shape. Richie Pandey, Deputy Development Commissioner (DDC) of Patna district came face to face with this reality during a surprise inspection. He found that over half the primary health centres (PHC) were closed.
Pandey, a young IAS officer, conducted an inspection of PHCs in Patna on Friday afternoon and was shocked. “I found four out of six PHCs locked. It was a matter of serious concern during the lockdown when we are faced with the threat posed by the coronavirus,” he said.
Pandey added that had informed the district magistrate about the condition of PHCs during his inspection. The DM has directed his office to issue a show-cause notice to the doctors (medical officer) in-charge at the closed PHCs.
According to him, he found four PHCs at Shastrinagar, Sachivalaya, Digha Mushahari and Kamla Nehru Nagar closed during inspection. All four PHCs are located in the heart of Patna.
An official of the health department said that all four PHCs are situated near slums where the poor and marginalised live, adding that the PHCs matter especially during a lockdown when private doctors and clinics have been out of service.
The PHCs were found closed despite a DM order to all government-run hospitals, including PHCs, in March, to ensure that OPDs were functional.
However, the situation in Patna speaks volumes about the functioning of the 1,900 odd PHCs in the state, against a required number of 3,470. “If the situation is so bad in PHCs in urban areas like Patna, one can imagine the situation in rural areas, far away from district headquarters across the state," said a senior doctor of the government-run PMCH (Patna Medical College and Hospital).
Reports have highlighted the poor condition of PHCs in Punpun, Naubatpur, Barh and Masaurih blocks in Patna, which are grossly inadequate to treat suspected coronavirus cases at a local level.
Ghalib Khan, a retired government official, stays in his native village of Piroo, which is a panchayat in Haspura block in Aurangabad district. He said the PHC in his area is neither functional nor is there any one to look after it. “The PHC in my village has been left in the lurch. It has nothing to offer villagers; the question of medical service is a dream," he said.
Bhagwan Bhaskar, an activist in Gaya said that most of the PHCs in different blocks of the district are running only on paper, mentioning that “the PHCs in Moganpur and Barachati blocks are mostly non-functional. The poor have no hopes or any expectations from them,” he added.
Mahendar Yadav, convenor of the Koshi Nav Nirman Manch, an organisation that works with the poor in flood-prone areas in north Bihar said that PHCs there are mostly non-functional. “Doctors have not been visiting the OPD on a daily basis and there is lack of medical equipment to treat emergency cases. More than half of the PHCs remain locked,” he said.
The consequences are dire. On April 10, a three-year-old from Jehanabad district died after authorities of a government hospital allegedly denied the ambulance service to the child’s parents after his condition deteriorated.
As per Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey's own admission, there is one doctor for every 17,685 persons in the state. There are 6,830 doctors including those in medical colleges in Bihar, which has a population of nearly 12 crore.
As of Saturday, 61 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Bihar, with one person dead. On Friday, the state’s health department tweeted that 5,457 samples had been tested and 673 samples were being processed.