The failure to adhere to the testing protocol laid down by the Indian Council of Medical Research and the delay in testing samples, which at times are sent 670 km away to labs in distant Nagpur, are leading to undetected spread and increasing fatalities in Malegaon, claim local residents and activists in the city. Malegaon, a town of 6 lakh residents located 280 km north of Mumbai, as of Saturday, had a total of 472 positive cases and 20 fatalities since the first case was registered on April 8.
Dr Akhlaque Usmani, a Unani doctor, lost two members of his family including his elder brother Tanveer Usmani, a two-time corporator, and his father Ahmed Usmani in a span of eight days. While his elder brother’s death on May 1 was deemed as a suspected Covid-19 death, the local administration as per the protocol of the ICMR failed to undertake the test of any high risk contacts within Usmani’s 13-member family, including his 75-year-old father, who was unwell. Eight days later, his father Ahmed Usmani succumbed to the infection.
“My brother fell sick late last month. He had previously been diagnosed with typhoid. We took him to various hospitals where he was refused treatment. He died on May 1 and he was seemed to be a suspect Covid-19 death with the local authorities taking his swab sample after his death,” Dr Akhlaque, who practices in Andheri, said.
Despite treating it as a suspected Covid-19 death, Malegaon authorities did not reach out to the Usmani family for conducting tests or advised them to undertake home isolation.
Dr Akhlaque, who was forced to be in Mumbai due to the lockdown, could not attend his brother’s funeral. Worried his family might have been infected, he pulled some strings to ensure that all 13 members of his extended clan who had come in contract with his brother got tested on May 5.
“I was worried about the safety of my family and asked local authorities about the status of my brother’s test report. I called up Dr Govind Chaudhary, Malegaon’s Health Officer, who told me that swab was collected from my brother. A few days later, on May 7, I received a message stating that my brother’s report was positive,” he said.
However, by then the health of his father, who suffered from mild diabetes, started deteriorating. His father passed away on May 9, hours after testing positive for Covid-19.
“On May 9, I received a call that four of my family members had tested positive. Hours later, they called again to say that there was some error and all 13 members were positive. A few hours later my father passed away,” Dr Akhlaque said.
All the family members who are asymptomatic who are presently under home quarantine. Dr Akhlaque says that timely reports and a functional health care system in Malegaon could have meant that the deaths in his family could have been avoided.
There are certain cases like that of Shamim Bano Abdul Qayyum, whose test results have not come in nearly two weeks after she died on April 27.
Health workers in Nayapura, where Shamim Bano lived, said they were still waiting for her results.
The Malegaon Municipal Corporation has so far tested 3,689 samples, of which it has received reports in 3,158 cases. Senior officials acknowledged that ensuring adequate testing and delivering quick results were a problem for the civic body.
The test samples for Malegaon are sent to either Nashik, which is 100 km away, Dhule, 60 km away or Nagpur, which is 670 km away.
“The labs where we are sending samples from Malegaon have a limited capacity and are unable to handle the volumes of tests in the desired time, which has led to the bunching up of test results. However, we have now received a dedicated slot of 2,000 tests over the next eight days in Dhule and hopefully the backlog of tests will get cleared,” Pankaj Ashiya, an IAS officer appointed as the special monitoring officer to oversee the Malegaon Emergency Operation Centre established after the coronavirus outbreak in the city, said.