The death of a 38-year-old person, who visited Qatar recently, in Munger District in Bihar has given jitters to the people, resulting in rumour mongering and ostracism of the migrant labourers in their native villages. In this context, the Bihar Government has ordered these migrant workers to stay at the local schools. In its letter to District Magistrates, Principal Secretary (Home) Aamir Subhani ordered that the administration must make necessary arrangements for the stay of the migrant workers in government schools and panchayat buildings.
Meanwhile, the medical experts in the state are of the opinion that the state may not report the exact number of cases of coronavirus-infected patients owing to the lack of diagnostic testing kits and dismal health infrastructure. Presently, Bihar has just two centres, Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Patna and Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital, to test the suspected patients of COVID-19. The state has reportedly received 1500 diagnostic testing kits from the National Institute of Virology. The severity of the situation could be gauged from the fact that the additional district magistrate of Bhagalpur had to reportedly wait for hours to get his wife tested for COVID-19.
In a letter written to the Superintendent of the Nalanda Medical College Hospital, the junior doctors of the hospital said that they have already started showing symptoms of infections from COVID-19 and must be sent to 15-day quarantine. The letter read, "Most of the junior residents working in hospital premises in OPD, emergency and wards have already been exposed to Covid-19 positive patients and many of us have started showing symptoms of the flu including sore throat, fever and cough. As a result of which we have been advised to go for home quarantine for a period of 15 days."
A junior doctor, who requested anonymity, said, "We saw a few positive cases in the hospital and doctors are now showing symptoms like fever and cough. Thus, we have asked the superintendent to let us quarantine. The authorities are not providing us with basic equipment like gloves, N95 masks and hazmat suits. This is very distressing."
Talking to NewsClick, Dr Shakeel Ahmad, a public health activist in the state, said that transparency has emerged as a crucial issue in these distressing times. He said, “The government is acting like a one-way channel where it is only communicating what it wants to. There is no communication about the number of beds, ventilators or intensive care units (ICUs) reserved for the patients. The doctors, nurses, and other paramedical staff are battling this intense situation without their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves or bodysuits."
He added, “What we are witnessing is that the entire thought process is derailed. The experience suggests that the infected persons must be isolated, tested, treated while tracing the people the patient might have infected. What the central and state governments are suggesting is that isolation is the only solution. But, it is not.”
“As far as health infrastructure is concerned, everybody knows it is in tatters. What we are hearing is that the government has conducted, so far, only 225 tests in the state. While RMRI has about 1000 kits, DMCH has only 500 kits. The problem is that the biggest brunt will be borne by the working class. The current mechanism provides relief for ration card holders. But a large population living in the slums does not hold ration cards," said Ahmad.
When it comes to crucial health indicators, Bihar is one of the worst performers in the country with its figures much lower than even the national average.
Reports suggest that the state has a shortage of 1,210 sub-centres, 131 primary health centres (PHCs), and 389 community health centres (CHCs). Another 2018 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said that improved healthcare facilities could not be provided because of project delays. “Completion of 75 CHCs was delayed by one to 33 months. Further, 11 CHCs were incomplete even after the delay of one to 36 months, due to non-availability of dispute-free land and slow execution of work. Consequently, there was a delay in the completion of 86 CHCs, which delayed the intended objective of providing improved healthcare facilities,” it read.
NewsClick repeatedly tried to reach the state nodal officer for COVID-19, Dr Ragini Mishra, for her comments, but she remained unavailable.
Also read: COVID-19 Crisis: Shortage of PPE Will Endanger Health Workers’ Lives