Like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar has shown a sharp drop in coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases from a month ago, currently reporting less than 1,500 daily infections. The recovery rate has risen to over 96%. But Bihar has faced a lot of criticism over the condition of its hospitals. In an interview, Bihar’s health minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Mangal Pandey, answered a host of questions on the state’s handling of the pandemic. Edited excerpts:
Bihar’s Covid figures are now low, but media has shown the poor condition of some hospitals in the state, especially the government hospital in Darbhanga…
Pandey: The Covid situation is under control in Bihar. If any such report comes in about the condition of hospitals, I take it positively and make efforts to ensure things are rectified. But one must remember that it is the overall system in Bihar that has delivered. And hence, Bihar is almost out of the clutches of the second wave of the coronavirus. Bihar, in term of active cases, is on the 20th spot among states in the country. We have just about 18,000 active cases now. There are 19 states ahead of us in active cases, and many are much smaller states than we are. Bihar is the third most populous state in the country, after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra…(but) we are in the 20th place in terms of active cases. This is a testimony to our systems that have helped us control Covid.
Bihar is running 700 vaccination vans (“Tika Express”) to give jabs to people in villages. How is this experiment working?
Pandey: The Idea behind “Tika Express" is that people in the 45+ category have some difficulties in coming to vaccination centres a few kilometers away. If the age is 50+, many people have co-morbidities; 60+ people are senior citizens and of old age. The “Tika Express" goes till their villages, and there it does vaccinations. There are trained medical staff posted on these vans to administer the vaccines. Our overall target is to increase the vaccination in the 45+ age category. This campaign, hence, is being run and we are seeing positive results of the same. The younger population in the 18-44 group generally reaches vaccination centres.
Bihar was reporting a very high number of coronavirus cases in end-April and early-May? How have you controlled the situation?
Pandey: We have followed the strategy of increasing our testing numbers, and the proper protocol of treatment and tracking. We have done all these three jobs with a lot of hard work. We have increased testing and done an average of 1 lakh to 1.25 lakh tests daily. We did not let any oxygen shortage arise at any bed in our hospitals. Be it our government hospitals or private hospitals, no patient suffered oxygen shortage once he reached the hospital. We can be responsible for those patients specifically…All required medicines were made available to the patients.
In 18-44 age group, a vaccine shortage has emerged in your state.
Pandey: Till three-four days ago, Bihar was on top among states who have vaccinated the most number of people in the 18-44 category. We have so far vaccinated nearly 16 lakh people in this category. Naturally, once the supply decreases, vaccination in that category also decreases. We have made advance payments for stocks to both Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. Our estimate is that temporary problem (of vaccine stocks) will be over in a couple of days and not arise later…the production of vaccines in the country is set to rise in the coming days…in June itself, it is expected to increase 1.5 times.
Are you not planning global tenders for vaccines like other states?
Pandey: We are not thinking about that. Tell me if any global tender issued by any state has brought any result…
How are you preparing for the possibility of a third Covid wave?
Pandey: We are brain-storming over the same and we have learnt from the second wave that there should be full preparation for adequate supply of oxygen. We have decided to focus on oxygen generation, refilling and transportation. Oxygen generation plants are already being set up in the state; we are getting cryogenic tankers and refilling plants are being increased. Second issue is manpower – so we have started recruitment of doctors and paramedical staff. Third issue is to increase the number of hospital beds and medicine capability. Within next two-three months, we will complete our preparations on all these counts.