COVID-19: No gloves or masks, Uttarakhand grapples with ailing healthcare system

Doctors claimed they were using their own gloves and masks; ASHA workers were instructed to buy masks and sanitisers on their own  

By Megha Prakash
Published: Monday 30 March 2020

As novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases continue to rise across India, the rural population of Uttrakhand has reasons to worry.

In the state’s Pauri Garhwal district, where two positive COVID-19 cases had been reported till March 30, the public health machinery is unprepared to deal with the pandemic. The state government is yet to provide safety gear to health professionals, claimed doctors at public health centres (PHC).

They claimed they were using their own surgical gloves and masks. ASHA workers, too, were directed to buy hand gloves, masks and sanitisers on their own.

Out of 6,897 migrants who returned to the district, two tested positive for COVID-19. While one returned from Spain on March 17, the other had contact history with international guests at an ashram in Rishikesh.

One of the patients did not show symptoms at the airport, but reported cold, fever and cough a few days later. His sample was sent to Haldwani, the only test centre in the state, while he was symptomatically treated at a government hospital in Kotdwar. This reportedly put the medical staff at high risk of infection.

Following the lockdown announcement, the state government set up district-level monitoring teams that screened migrants at state borders. Both patients were screened for symptoms, but were not tested.

Hundreds of patients had been flocking out-patient departments with symptoms of flu and fever, according to doctors in Srikot-Srinagar. But the testing centre in Haldwani is about eight hours away.

“It takes five-six days to get back the test results, following which they are verified at Pune-based National Institute of Virology,” said Ramesh Kunwar, in-charge, COVID-19 war room, Pauri.

“We are giving symptomatic treatment to people coming to us with flu and fever. This is because we have no way to perform advanced tests. But precautions are being taken while examining and suspected cases are being sent to isolation wards. Since there is no treatment protocol for virus-infected patients, quarantine is the only option with supportive medical aid,” said Rahul Lakhera, pharmacist, State Allopathic Dispensary (SAD), Kinsur.

The community health centre (CHC) in Tehri has received 14 PP kits N95 masks and gloves since the lockdown, according to Sameer Nautiyal, medical officer.

“The supply is slow, but we are expecting a few more in the coming days. Until then, doctors here are exposed to high risk. Thermal scanners are yet to reach us. We just have digital thermometers. In the last three days, nearly 650 patients visited us. On March 23, three suspected cases were referred to advanced centres,” he said.

It is not just Pauri Garhwal district, but the whole state that is in need of adequate health facilities. The situation is dismal even in villages close to Uttarakhand’s capital city, Dehradun.

“Our nearest PHC in Dwara Samoli had a visiting pharmacist, but he has been posted elsewhere. Lack of transportation is adding to our problems,” said Ajay Negi, a resident.

“People who returned with their families from Dehradun have not been screened. We do not even know if we have somebody infected among us,” he added.

In view of shortage of staff, the state government is planning to temporarily attach ayurvedic and homoeopathic medical officers and paramedical staff to the medical health and family welfare department.

During this period, employees would report to the chief medical officer (CMO) of the districts concerned. The health department would also provide a short training to these personnel.

In a letter directed to the chief secretary of Uttarakhand, Nitesh Jha, the health secretary said the health department faces shortage of staff and that it needed staff augmentation.

More than 18,000 migrants have returned to their villages across multiple districts since the lockdown.

 “We have been instructed to maintain a list of returning migrants in real time and share it with district administration,” said Rajendra Singh Negi, gram pradhan of village Kama, Almora.


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