As the man in charge of West Bengal’s Central Medical Stores, Dr Biplab Kanti Dasgupta led the distribution of COVID-19 medical supplies to hospitals and health centres across the state — from Personal Protective Equipment to masks and gloves. On Sunday, nine days after he tested positive and months shy of retirement, the 64-year-old Assistant Director of Health Services became the first frontline health provider in West Bengal to die of the virus.
Dasgupta, who was admitted to a private hospital in Kolkata’s Salt Lake area, tested positive on April 17. Diabetic and hypertensive, his condition had deteriorated soon after, and he was put on ventilator support. The cause of his death has been recorded as ‘COVID pneumonia’.
After he tested positive, his family and primary contacts, including 17 more staff of the Health Department and another senior medical officer, were put in quarantine and their swab samples sent for testing. So far, his wife and family physician have tested positive for the virus and are in the same hospital. While one of his sons is stuck in another city and has been unable to return due to the lockdown, the other is in quarantine in a hotel in east Kolkata.
On Sunday, in a series of tweets, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she was “deeply pained at the untimely demise” of Dasgupta. She said Dasgupta’s “sacrifice for the cause of ailing humanity will ever be in our hearts and will make our COVID warriors fight the deadly virus with even greater determination.”
Hailing from Chattogram in Bangladesh, Dasgupta, who graduated from Chittagong Medical College in 1980, did his Diploma in Public Health from the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health.
An officer of the West Bengal Health Services, Dasgupta has held several senior administrative positions, including that of Superintendent of Kanthi Sub-divisional Hospital in East Midnapore, Chief Medical Officer in Uttar Dinajpur and later, District Leprosy Officer in Murshidabad.
Dr Amit Pan, a Kolkata-based paediatrician who has worked extensively in the area of child health, said Dasgupta will be remembered for his stint as leprosy officer. “He travelled to the interiors of the districts and played a major role in bringing down the number of leprosy cases in these areas,” he said.
Dasgupta also headed the planning and development of the state health services before leading charge of the Central Medical Stores.
Sanjay Banerjee, secretary of the Behala branch of the Indian Medical Association with whom Dasgupta has worked for long, said, “We got to know about his fever only on the seventh day, when Dr Sovan Kumar Kundu examined him (Kundu has since tested positive) and recommended a COVID-19 test. Even after he tested positive, Biplab told me he had no problems. But a couple of days later, I could sense his breathlessness. That night, he was transferred to a private hospital in Salt Lake and put on ventilator. In the meantime, he also suffered a cardiac arrest. Although he survived that, his urinary output had reduced a lot. He was to be put on dialysis but that never happened. He had comorbidities — diabetes and hypertension. About 7-8 years ago, he had also suffered a minor cerebral stroke.”
“The last time I spoke to him, he rued about where he could have contracted the virus from. I told him he could have got it from anywhere — after all, he was in contact with workers who were carrying supplies from the Central Medical Stores to various COVID hospitals; or even the government car in which he travelled,” Banerjee added.
Dasgupta’s friends say that through all his postings, he never gave up medical practice. Dr Samudra Sengupta, his friend and junior in the health services, said, “Since we are in administrative service, we have no permission for clinical practice. But Biplab da would always say, ‘Daktari ta chharis na (Don’t stop being a doctor). We are born to treat people. That is how we will always be known as.’ So Biplab da also never gave up practice. He used to treat people free of cost.”
While condoling the death, the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum called for more testing of healthcare providers. “We once again reiterate that we need more intensive testing, especially of each and every healthcare provider, even asymptomatic ones; adequate and appropriate PPEs; strict adherence of ICMR guidelines, including death certification as per ICD 10 principles as laid down by the advisory bodies.”
West Bengal has so far recorded 20 COVID-19 deaths, with Health Department sources saying more than 70 frontline health workers have tested positive. The state had set up a committee to audit COVID-19 deaths and on Friday said that of 57 deaths, only 18 could be primarily attributed to the virus.
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