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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Covid data fudge: Inquiries done, action taken, says Health Minister

An investigation by The Indian Express in February in four districts had revealed a string of glaring irregularities that violated basic data protocols and cast doubts on the credibility of testing data.

Written by Santosh Singh | Patna |
Updated: March 14, 2021 7:09:11 am
Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey (File Photo)

BIHAR HEALTH minister Mangal Pandey Saturday told the state Assembly that the government had initiated departmental proceedings against four health department officials and issued showcause notices to over one-and-a-half dozen contractual staffers following large-scale manipulation in Covid testing data.

An investigation by The Indian Express in February in four districts had revealed a string of glaring irregularities that violated basic data protocols and cast doubts on the credibility of testing data.

Health Minister Pandey was responding to a question by RJD MLA Lalit Yadav on the action taken by the state government following the data fudge. Yadav also sought to know if the government intended to set up a high-level committee to further investigate the matter.

In a written reply, Health Minister Pandey said, “After The Indian Express reported discrepancies in Covid-19 data collection on February 11, nine officials of health department and the District Magistrates conducted inquiries in several districts including Jamui. Jamui district reported anomalies in data collection in Barhat and Sikandara primary/community health centres.”

On the basis of a report by the District Magistrate of Jamui, the health department had suspended Jamui Civil Surgeon Dr Vijyendra Satyarthi, Primary Health Centre (PHC) Jamui Medical Officer-in-charge cum District Immunisation Officer Vimal Kumar Choudhary, Barhat PHC Medical Officer-in-charge Nand Kumar Mandal and Sikandara Community Health Centre Medical Officer-in-charge Dr Shajid Hussai, the minister informed the Assembly. “The health department has initiated departmental proceedings against these officials on February 22,” he said.

The Health Minister further told the House that the department has already showcaused Jamui District Programme Officer Sudhanshu Lal and Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Mukesh Kumar. Further, Jamui district administration has suspended two regular Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) of Barhat PHC, and issued showcause notices to several contractual employees of the PHC. These notices had been also issued to three regular and nine contractual employees including two doctors of Sikandara CHC.

Pandey, however, said the state government did not intend to set up any high-level committee as demanded by the RJD MLA.

Last month, RJD Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jumar Jha had taken up the issue in Parliament. The Centre had later sought a report from the state. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had reviewed the matter and assured stern action against those responsible. The state government that had been testing 75,000-80,000 samples daily till first week of February, is now testing 23,000-25,000 samples a day. At present, the state has 323 active cases.

As part of its investigation, The Indian Express had visited six PHCs in Jamui, Sheikhpura and Patna, and accessed their testing records for January 16, 18 and 25. It tracked down 885 entries at these PHCs, and spoke to several staffers to find that basic data protocol was bypassed in a scramble to meet the daily target — from fudged mobile numbers to fake names and dodgy entries. And, in some cases, to allegedly siphon off profits from unused testing kits.

Bihar was among the states hardest-hit by the pandemic with the return of over 20 lakh migrant workers as infections peaked in the middle of last year. The state has so far recorded 2,59,347 positive cases and 1,521 deaths linked to Covid. At present, the state has 700 active cases.

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