Bihar doctors worried as more healthcare workers fall prey to COVID-19

At least 150 healthcare professionals, including 100 doctors, have tested positive for COVID-19 so far in the state

By C K Manoj
Published: Tuesday 07 July 2020

Health professionals leading the battle against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bihar are fast falling victims to SARS-CoV-2 virus.

At least 150 healthcare professionals, including 100 doctors, have tested positive for Covid-19 so far in the state, according to an estimate by Indian Medical Association (IMA), Bihar. There are a total of about 20,000 doctors and 40,000-50,000 health staff in the state, an IMA official said.

The virus has claimed 97 lives and infected 12,140 persons so far since the first case was reported in the state in the last week of March.

Last week, COVID-19 testing at three top health institutes in Patna had to be closed for three days after as many as 15 doctors, lab technicians and other health workers tested positive for the virus.

The labs — Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences (RMRIMS) and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) — were shut for fumigation and sanitisation.

Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS), another prominent health institute in Patna, has requested for two-day closure of its laboratory from July 8 after a laboratory technician tested positive.

IGIMS and PMCH are among the six laboratories under the public sector in the state doing confirmatory tests for COVID-19.

“Doctors are increasingly getting exposed to the virus,” IMA vice-president Ajay Kumar told DTE over the phone on Tuesday. He claimed the personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and facemasks provided to doctors were of sub-standard quality.

“Doctors are the most vulnerable community today. If one doctor gets infected, his colleagues and patients will too get infected,” said Kumar.

He added they have been told by the authorities that the testing will be carried out only when they show symptoms. He said he has asked the state government to declare AIIMS Patna a COVID-19 hospital for doctors and health staff.

The IMA official claimed planning for testing in rural areas was lacklustre. “Only two hospitals in rural areas — first in Gaya and second in Bhagalpur — have been declared COVID-19-dedicated hospitals,” he said.

In his support, he cited an official letter of Muzaffarpur civil surgeon asking the head of 10 hospitals in the districts not to admit any new cases until they are sanitized completely. The instruction was issued after the doctors at these hospitals were tested positive.   

 IMA secretary Sunil Kumar said the entire health system would be in a shambles if the safety of doctors was repeatedly ignored by the state government.

 “The number of doctors testing positive for the virus is increasing by the day but the government is not looking into our concerns. If the very trend continues, the situation will go out of control,” Kumar said.

Bihar surveillance officer Ragini Mishra, however, said there was nothing to worry. “We have two teams of doctors — frontline team and second-line team. If the frontline team is quarantined, the second will automatically take charge,” she said.

She added that patients were getting cured within three-five days.

Return of the migrants

Bihar has witnessed a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases since the return of millions of migrant workers to the state.

The state recorded 485 COVID-19 cases as on May 1, 2020; the cases rose to 12,140 as on July 6.

The cases registered a 25-fold increase since the Indian government began running special Shramik trains from to send migrants back home in May.

According to an official report, more than three million migrant workers returned homes in Bihar by these trains, roads or on foot.

However, only 264,109 tests have been conducted so far, according to a latest report of the state health department. This means a little over 6,000 tests are being carried out a day in a state with a total population of around 12 crore.

“The transmission rate has gone up as people are growing negligent during the un-lockdown period,” Mishra said.

Patients denied admission

State health secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh said on an average, 7,000-8,000 tests are being done per day and that the department will step up its capacity further. He added more testing centres will come up.

The announcement came amid reports of health centres denying admission to patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

The family members of two employees of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) were admitted to a local private hospital in Patna a few days ago. One of them urgently required dialysis.

“Both the patients had only heart and kidney ailments when they were admitted to the hospital. But they tested positive for COVID-19 and were discharged within two hours,” NTPC spokesperson Vishwanath Chandan told DTE.

He claimed the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Patna, denied admission to one of the patients citing lack of beds and dialysis facility.

Regional executive director (East II), NTPC, Asit Kumar Mukherjee even shot a letter to the health department, he claimed.

NTPC has six power plants in Bihar and over 15,000 people work there. “We are terrified. Where will we go if the hospitals don’t admit our patients?” asked an NTPC spokesperson.

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