Jharkhand has tested 137 samples so far and reported zero COVID-19 cases Saturday. According to the health department, all the samples turned out to be negative. With the state having 3.2 crore population as per the 2011 census data, experts said the situation could be “worrying”.
People in Jharkhand could be sitting on a “time bomb”, said Dr Mohammad Azad, Secretary of the Jharkhand Chapter of the Association of Surgeons of India. “The tests have been abysmally low given the population and return of immigrant workers in the state. We need to do more tests.”
While 45,197 emigrants have officially arrived in the state in the last few days, many of them have not been screened. Labourers working in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala have arrived at Jamshedpur, Ranchi, Dhanbad railway stations among others. While some were scanned through thermal metres, a large number weren’t.
An official release Friday said that 45,197 migrant workers who returned from other states were “identified by healthcare workers” and “screened at district hospitals and were found asymptomatic”.
Health Minister Banna Gupta, however, admitted that many labourers were left unchecked because of the resource crunch. “It is true that if we had sought help from different districts, we would have been able to screen them. Now that the labourers are scattered everywhere, we are tracking them and keeping everyone informed. It has been three days now since the ingress stopped, and we have not received any such information on the early onset of the disease. That is a relief.”
A committee has also been formed at various levels to look into the issue of the arrival of migrants in the state. Many villagers have been asked to keep a tab on people with domestic travel history and request them for home isolation among others. That move has led to panic and even outright confrontation in the absence of proper planning. Reportedly, a 45-year-old man was beaten to death after he had confronted four persons, who had returned recently from another state, while they were found roaming in Palamu village.
Gupta, who took over as the Minister in January-end, said the state government is doing its best and urged people not to panic.
Jharkhand, however, doesn’t look well-equipped to handle a crisis.
Sources said the Jharkhand government has only 200 ventilators – both private and government hospitals combined – in which 100 are “sent for repairs or/and are non-functional”.
COVID-19 disease affects the respiratory system and ventilators are key in case of an outbreak, especially for old people. People above 60 years are reportedly the most vulnerable – Jharkhand having has 23.5 lakh senior citizens, as per 2011 census data.
In addition, doctors at the district level said one requires training to operate the ventilators which, again, is lacking in the state.
At Nepal House Secretariat in Ranchi, Principal Secretary (Health) Nitin Madan Kulkarni is the only bureaucrat who is currently working from his office. While flipping over the loads of files, he agrees: “There is a resource crunch, but it is so in the entire country. We have around 200 ventilators in the state and we have started training people on how to operate it.”
He said a dedicated helpline ‘104’ has been launched for providing medical advice to people in view of the pandemic. “Till Thursday, we received 5,423 number of calls,” he added. The state has started another helpline ‘181’ in the state.
Another major challenge is the short supply of protective equipment and test kits in the state. Reports from across the world state that the health workers are being infected resulting in difficulty in slowing the pandemic. Kulkarni said that as on March 26, the state has 1,465 Personal Protective Equipment and government has ordered some more for healthcare practitioners.
Minister Gupta said that as per the Medical Council of India norms, the state is facing a shortage of at least 90,000 healthcare workforce – including doctors, nurses, paramedics, cleaners, ward boys sweepers.
To tide over this shortage, Gupta said: “The state government is identifying retired doctors, nurses, paramedics among others to absorb the shortage and will appeal them to work on humanitarian grounds. People who need money will also be incentivised.”
Jharkhand currently has “4,000 testing kits”, which have been distributed to various districts, according to Manish Tiwari, secretary, SDRF.
The districts are supposed to collect the swabs and send them to the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, Ranchi, and MGM Hospital and Medical College, Jamshedpur, said Tiwari, adding there are two machines in the entire state to test the samples.
A source said: “One more testing machine has been bought.”
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