Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
A slight dip in the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the last couple of days (Tuesday and Wednesday) has brought a slight relief to Tamil Nadu. But, the lesser number of tests still remains a cause of concern. The health and family welfare minister claimed that the state is equipped to conduct 5,320 tests per day in 16 government and 10 private labs. Still, the number of tests conducted so far since the first COVID-19 patient was identified stands at 21,994 (number of total individuals tested is 17,835) till 6 pm on April 15. The guidelines recommended by the central government was cited as the reason for the lower number of tests in the state.
The increase in the number of medical workers testing positive for COVID-19 is another cause of concern, with 11 doctors and five nurses inflicted so far. Three postgraduate doctors from Coimbatore Medical college and Hospital have tested positive in the last four days. Various doctors’ organisations have alleged that there is a shortage of PPE, but the government claims that enough stock is available.
‘NUMBER OF TESTS STILL LOW’
The health minister in the regular media briefing on Wednesday claimed that the state has the highest test capacity of 5,320 per day. But, the number of tests remain too low given the impact of the pandemic across the state. A total of 2,739 tests done during 24 hours is much lesser than the total testing capacity. The total tests done so far, 21,994 include the multiple tests conducted for the same individuals. The total number of individuals to have undergone the tests is 17,835. The multiple tests conducted till April 13 were not included in the media bulletin as the number of tests saw a huge jump from 12,747 on April 13 to 19,255 on April 14. The government and the health department seem to be exaggerating the number of tests done by including the multiple tests.
The number of test labs have been increased to 26 of which 16 are government labs and 10 are private labs. The organisations including the Doctors’ Association for Social Equality and Doctors’ Forum for People's Health have been advocating continuously to increase the number of tests substantially.
PPE DEAR FOR MEDICAL WORKERS
The increase in the number of medical staffers testing positive for the novel coronavirus is a serious cause of concern. Out of the 11 doctors have tested positive so far; two are railway doctors. The doctors and nurses have contracted the virus from the patients they are treating in the hospitals. The minister announced that 15,000 PPE are being issued everyday to various hospitals, while the stock is as high as 21 lakh. With such a huge stock, the government seems to be disbursing much less than the actual demand.
In the meantime, three postgraduate doctors of Coimbatore Medical College on duty at the ESI hospital tested positive for COVID-19. When questioned about the availability of the PPE to the doctors, the Chief Secretary in the press meet on Monday accused the doctors of being careless. But the PG doctors and Compulsory Rotatory Residential Internship (CRRI) doctors have accused the state administration of insisting on using only one PPE per day. The reuse of the PPE could have been responsible for PG students contracting the virus.
STAFF COMPLAINs OF INSUFFICIENT MEASURES
The press meet of the health minister on Wednesday was filled with details of purchases, availability of stock of medical equipment and proactive measures by the government. But the reports from many medical colleges and hospitals across the state talk about insufficient PPE, N95 masks and three-layered masks. The minister also went on to claim that hydroxychloroquine and other IV fluids to treat 1.5 lakh patients in the near future are available in the state.
The doctors and health professionals are questioning the imbalance between the demand and the stock. The available PPE should be distributed to the medical professionals in time to protect them while they treat the affected people.
The state government has a stock of around 1.6 lakh reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) kits including the 20,000 kits alloted by the Union government. With a testing capacity of 5,320 per day and 1.6 lakh RT-PCR kits available, the total number of individuals tested stand below 18,000. When many other countries including South Korea have succeeded in containing the COVID-19 spread by higher number of tests, the state and the country in general are refraining from testing widely and rapidly.
SOCIAL STIGMA CONTINUES
The passing away of a couple of doctors brought out the social stigma that has taken roots in the society in the backdrop of this pandemic. The funeral of the doctor from Andhra Pradesh who passed away due to COVID-19 in Chennai on Monday was opposed by the people of Ambattur, residing close to the burial ground. Another doctor died of dengue while serving in a remote tribal village in Erode district. The neighbours of his native village opposed the decision to bring his body to his residence. Only after persuading the neighbours for hours and explaining the cause of death, the body was allowed to be taken to his home and the burial was completed. Dejected by the actions of their neighbours, the doctor’s mother attempted to commit suicide and is under treatment now.
The prime minister and many citizens clapped, banged plates and lit lamps on two different days as a mark of gratitude towards the health workers. But, on the other hand, ignorance of many of these people and the consequent stigma have become serious issues for the health personnel.
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