Between July 1 and July 29, Covid-19 cases in Bihar climbed from 10,205 to 45,919. And of the total 273 Covid-19 deaths reported in the state so far, 195 have occurred in the past 27 days. As the cases spike, the state government faces five key challenges in its fight against the virus:
Low testing: Though daily testing capacity has gone up from 10,000 samples to over 14,000, it has to be ramped up much more. Bihar has tested 5.04 lakh samples so far. In comparison, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have tested 24.14 lakh and 19.25 lakh samples, respectively.
The manager of a hospital said, “Unless a district is given at least 1,000 testing kits daily, it is difficult to meet the demand. We need to collect enough samples at the level of primary healthcare centres to control the spread. Delay in testing means further spread.” Among the districts that have started witnessing a surge in cases are Begusarai, Munger, Bhojpur, East Champaran, West Champaran, Nawada, Nalanda and Gopalganj. A Bhojpur resident said, “All four members of my family have symptoms similar to that of a Covid-19 infection. Since we are not very ill, we have not felt the urgency to get tested. Also, not enough kits are available. Some people in my locality have similar symptoms but have not gone for testing.”
Shortage of beds with oxygen cylinders: Two days back, CM Nitish Kumar said 5,000 beds would be added soon to the current 8,000 beds in the state. The government has started a 100-bed hospital at Patna Medical College and Hospital and another 100-bed Covid facility at Patliputra Sports Complex. But this has not taken the load off dedicated Covid hospitals. While most districts have adequate beds with oxygen cylinders, hospitals in Patna need more such beds. Panic has driven many to keep oxygen cylinders at home.
Ventilator crisis: Most districts do not have ventilators at Sadar hospitals and some are depending on private hospitals. Darbhanga DM Thiyagrajan S M said, “Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital has some ventilators. We have also identified a private hospital that has 80 ventilators.” Several DMs have asked the state government to provide them at least 10 ventilators to deal with critical patients, but the demand has not been met yet.
Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey said, “The Central government has given us 750 oxygen concentrators. DRDO is also opening a 500-bed Corona hospital in Bihar.”
Shortage of healthcare staff: The Patna High Court recently pulled up the state government for not filling 8,768 of the total 11,645 posts for doctors. A senior bureaucrat who has worked with the health department said, “Over 1,000 posts of special doctors were approved three months ago, but appointments have not taken place.” Out of the 4,704 posts of Grade I regular nurses, 2,710 are vacant. Of the 19,179 contractual posts for nurses, 18,871 are vacant.
“There is an acute shortage of doctors and nurses in every hospital. At several places, there is too much dependence on junior resident doctors. In Covid times, we need experts,” said a doctor at Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH), Patna. With several doctors at NMCH and AIIMS, Patna, succumbing to Covid-19, there is fear among the doctors. Shanu Kumar, an advocate, said, “My brother is a doctor at AIIMS. We are living in panic. He is doing his job and we are proud of him, but also concerned about the family’s safety.”
Preventing spread in villages: With several block towns reporting Covid cases, the government faces a challenge to prevent the outbreak from reaching villages. While most villages have not reported any case so far, there are concerns about very low testing in villages. Sheikhpura resident Rahul Kumar said, “There are villages such as Mankoul, Tadapad, Murarpur and Hathiama near the town where only critical patients are being tested.”