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Dearth of Doctors, Low Testing: Bihar's Health Infrastructure Crumbles under Weight of Covid-19

FILE PHOTO: A doctor wearing a protective face shield uses an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of a child at his mobile health clinic, after his clinic and its adjoining areas were declared a micro-containment zone, after authorities eased lockdown restrictions that were imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, REUTERS/Amit Dave

FILE PHOTO: A doctor wearing a protective face shield uses an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of a child at his mobile health clinic, after his clinic and its adjoining areas were declared a micro-containment zone, after authorities eased lockdown restrictions that were imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, REUTERS/Amit Dave

According to the 2019 health index of the NITI Aayog, Bihar ranked second-last with a score of 32.11, next only to Uttar Pradesh.

Mani Bhushan, who lost his father to COVID-19, uploaded a video on social media shedding light on the pathetic condition of Bihar’s medical infrastructure. While talking to CNN-News18’s Political Editor Marya Shakil, he detailed how the negligence on the part of the medical staff; doctors and nurses exacerbated the already grim situation.

“We used to change the oxygen water, check blood pressure and stay by his bedside all night. I was asked to administer the syringe by a nurse,” Bhushan said.

His father was admitted to Patna's Nalanda Medical College. He accused one Dr AK Singh not visiting the patient and providing basic facilities.

“The doctor visited him only once. The nurse was asked to look after him, who would not attend to him on time. It is the neglect on the part of the system that resulted in his death,” he said.

According to the 2019 health index of the NITI Aayog, Bihar ranked second-last with a score of 32.11, next only to Uttar Pradesh. The state has always lacked health facilities and with Covid-19 cases doubling in the last fourteen days, the infrastructure has crumbled. Bihar's northern region is also witnessing floods, making it all the more difficult for the medical staff to respond on time.

Another case that came to fore was that of AIIMS, where Rupali and Khushboo's brother succumbed to Covid-19. The 33-year-old would have survived if he had been attended to properly, his sister claimed.

“In the ICU ward, we asked for the doctor several times but the staff kept giving us excuses. They called and asked for the medicine that was not available with the hospital. But shouldn’t medicines be provided by the administration? It’s their responsibility to arrange for it when running a hospital,” Rupali said.

“The staff is confused and misguided,” she added.

It was reported that of the 11,373 sanctioned posts of doctors around 50% remained vacant till June last year.

There’s one doctor for an average of 29,000 people and one bed for every 8,645 individuals. Unpreparedness and failing to take appropriate preventive measures have resulted in a sudden spurt in cases.

Dr Diwakar Tejaswi accepted the sad condition of the state’s health infrastructure. He said, “The steps that should have been taken were not taken on time. We don’t have any infrastructure in district headquarters to cater to even serious patients.”

Pointing to inadequacies like weak administration and a neglect of the seriousness of the situation, he talked about the measures that need to be taken now to prevent it from getting worse.

“We need to start testing. And for that, we need to procure as many testing kits as possible. This can only be done by giving free hand to all the organisations for manufacturing them. We also need to have enough oxygen and pulse oximeter,” Dr Tejaswi said.

Bihar government allotted Rs 10,937.68 crore to the health sector in its 2020-21 budget. It is about 3.54% of the total budget, second-lowest in the country. The state has an insignificant testing rate, almost non-existent compared to other states, though the government claimed that it has ramped up testing to 9,000 per day in the last week.

Bihar's health department has reported more than 21,000 positive cases which is a small number as compared to Mumbai or Delhi. Clearly, the curve is going to rise. In the wake of the current situation, it was wise of the administration to introduce lockdown from July 15- July 31.