Bihar's coronavirus story: Why should India be worriedLast updated on Jul 20, 2020, 04:07 pm
Perpetually considered as one of the most under-developed states in the country, Bihar is now burdened by the rise in coronavirus cases with at least eight districts set to become India's next hotspots.
Testing across the state hasn't been amplified, healthcare officials are overworked, and patients aren't finding any beds.
Amid the crisis, a central team was sent to Bihar to assess the situation.
Currently, death toll is low, but future seems grim
At 26,379 total cases, Bihar has lost 179 to the viral disease, whose outbreak started in China last year. As compared to states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi, the numbers seem heartening, but the risk of transmission in Bihar is high.
As per a study by The Lancet, eight of India's 20 most vulnerable districts belong to Bihar, with Darbhanga topping the chart.
Situation in Bhagalpur is frightening, cases are rising exponentially
The situation in other parts isn't satisfactory either. Bhagalpur is Bihar's second worst-hit district, with 1,601 cases, and 16 deaths. It's next to Patna which has 3,696 cases.
Notably, until June 8, the district had just 245 cases.
As cases are surging worryingly, the dedicated COVID-19 hospital — The Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital — in Bhagalpur, is tackling staff crunch, poor infrastructure.
Patients left unattended, kin unhappy with hospital
Recently, the son of a 60-year-old, who was admitted to an isolation ward, said no one is monitoring patients.
"The toilet is so unsanitary and barely cleaned. I saw a woman tell nurses that there was a need for an oxygen cylinder. There was no response," the person told IE.
Another person had to "exploit contacts" to just get his 55-year-old father tested.
In-charge of hospital complained about not having enough junior doctors
However, what's truly heart-wrenching is the fact that doctors themselves are helpless.
Dr. Hemshankar Sharma, who is the in-charge of the isolation ward, said healthcare professionals are working day in and out, yet patients are complaining.
He said the hospital is in dire need of 50-60 resident doctors, dedicated only for COVID-19 patients.
Shockingly, 14 juniors have resigned since the crisis began.
Likewise in Supaul, doctors are struggling to even reach hospital
A similar concerning story from Supaul district also got attention. A video, released by India TV, showed a doctor, wearing a mask, commuting on a thela.
Dr. Amarindar Kumar, who works at a dedicated COVID-19 facility in the area, told last week that they were treating only two patients currently.
He disclosed there are no ambulances to ferry either patients or healthcare workers.
Calling this sorry state of affairs would be an understatement
Sorry state of #COVID19 affairs in the state of #Bihar ... doctors are having to travel in and out of #COVID__19 speciality hospitals on a thela. Same goes with patients. Listen to Dr Amarinder Kumar. #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/RwXep3nq6M— Sidhant Mamtany (@SidMamtany) July 16, 2020
Considering health risk, IMA wants 15-day leave for medical professionals
Obviously, frontline healthcare workers aren't immune to the disease's spread. In Bihar, more than 200 healthcare professionals have been infected, and two have died.
Considering the risk, the Bihar chapter of Indian Medical Association (IMA) demanded that warriors, leading the battle from the front, should be tested fortnightly.
The body also wants a mandatory 15-day break for the medical professionals.
Impending polls and monsoons aren't helping Bihar's fight either
Further, with Bihar poised for Assembly polls in October-November, some parties have apprehensions that elections may turn into a "super-spreader" event.
Opposition parties, like RJD, Congress, CPI, CPM, CPI-ML, RLSP, and the HAM wrote to Election Commission asking to rethink how polls should be conducted.
Moreover, the upcoming season of floods is also bound to sabotage Bihar's battle against coronavirus.
The crisis has obviously set stage for political mud-slinging
Naturally, Bihar's current status served as an opportunity for the opposition to slam Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
"Nitishji is playing havoc with the lives of 12.6 crore Biharis. To avoid bad press, he is suppressing data. Is your image more important than the lives of our people, Mr. CM," RJD's Tejashwi Yadav asked recently.
Even NDA ally, LJP, launched a veiled attack on Kumar.
Central team visited Bihar, focus now on antigen testing
Now, in order to understand Bihar's situation, a three-member team led by Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal visited the state. Reportedly, the team was inundated with complaints of improper facilities at state-run hospitals.
From hereon, Bihar will focus on antigen testing.
The health department said kits will be available at all subdivision hospitals from Tuesday, and at all primary health centers from next week.
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The question is: Can Bihar have a turnaround from here?
In the next few days, COVID-19 numbers from Bihar will, of course, spike. The challenge ahead is to accommodate the critically-ill patients into isolation wards and give them the necessary support. So, can poor Bihar save its citizens? All eyes on you, Nitish Kumar.