The massive spike in covid-19 cases in India lead by the deadlier and highly transferable variant of the corona virus has infected 1,87,62,976 people. We can see the atmosphere of panic, chaos, fear and insufficiency of resources repeating itself even after whole year to build a sustainable combat mechanism for a disease that’s tripping down the healthcare system of the country. After strict clampdown across the country for several months, what people thought could be a sigh of relief, turned out to be an invitation to a more devastating condition. Reckless political rallies, incautious religious gatherings and general public leniency has in one way or the other paved way for the grim situation we’re dealing with today. The country has recorded a total of 2,08,330 deaths which still several experts assume to be undercounted. While lockdowns and restrictions have again been imposed across most of the states, the situation hasn’t yet been seen to come under control. A constant blame game and politicizing of the issue continues to linger while the public struggles to breath.
We can see crematoriums overflowing with bodies of both covid and non-covid deaths. Bihar recorded 2,560 deaths on 30th April, with Patna being the worst hit among all districts and cities. Patna Municipal Corporation took over two more unregistered ghats to accommodate after announcing free cremation of victims dying from covid. Family members screeching and sobbing has now become a common sight. Vishal Kumar, a mechanical engineer hailing from Munger lost his mother to covid on the night of April 26th after she was denied to be warded in the hospital as she was covid positive.
“My mother was suffering from fever which was cured but later she was having issues in breathing on April 25th. On 26th April we took her to Munger National hospital where the doctor suggested that we shift her to ICU as she was on oxygen support. A rapid test was conducted which diagnosed her as covid negative, after which she was admitted. We then had to shift her to Sevayan hospital where she was tested positive for covid. Due to this they did not allow us to admit her there. We had understood that her condition is too critical so we arranged oxygen for her at home through one of our contacts and made all in-house arrangements. But my mother couldn’t survive longer and we lost her by night”, Vishal Kumar.
Not just the medical infrastructure but also Bihar’s health department can be seen collapsing. The recent data from the Bihar Health Department shows 15,853 new covid +ve cases in Bihar, making the total count of active cases 1,05,400 as of April 29th.
Patna has almost 10 government hospitals with a total of approximately 6,000 beds (1900 beds in Patna Medical College and Hospital, largest govt. hospital in Patna). Even if half of the total beds are reserved for covid, it comes down to only 3000 beds while the total active cases are close to 1 lakh. Out of these, almost 80-90% are in home quarantine or asymptomatic. The remaining symptomatic positive being approximately 10,000-15,000 patients can easily be handled with proper coordination with private players. But the biggest problem that the state is acing is that there’s not a single hospital that has its own Oxygen plant and leading to the situation we’re witnessing right now.
According to a report by Rural Health Statistics (RHS) 2018-2019, published by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), the primary health care system in Bihar needs 11,388 more sub centres, 1,649 Primary Health Centres (PHCs), and 737 Community Health Centres (CHCs). Bihar lacks management with inability to produce oxygen plants, cylinders, lack of doctors, no seats for specialization as well as lack of vacancy.
Dr. Harsh Prakash, a junior resident at a renowned government hospital in Patna talks about the terrible conditions of working where the only positive highlight is that there’s no lack of PPE kits, masks or sanitizers this time, as compared to last year. “Our colleagues are getting positive day by day, manpower is reducing as a result of which the remaining have to over-work. In a peak of 40 degree temperature in summers, we wear our PPE kits for 6-8 hours a day without water, food or washroom break. Then we go back to our room to attend phone calls of multiple positive home quarantine patients, rest for a while before going back to the same routine,” Dr. Harsh, on working conditions in government hospitals.
He also talked about how the emergency department in mid-April had 8-9 patients coming in ever half an hour and were routinely tested to be covid positive. On a regular basis, every 2nd-3rd patient visiting the OPD and emergency were positive, symptomatic or has tests awaited. About the daily deaths, he said, “Witnessing deaths is something that doctors are used to but the thing is you can’t do anything to save that person, oxygen falling, no beds vacant, no ventilators available, no extra cylinders; you know all the methods needed to save the person’s life but you can’t due to the lack. That what makes it terrible. However, we try not to lose hope and cure the next patient.”
Mental Health in the midst of pandemic
Mental health has been the most exploited and damaged factors in this era of distress. News of death pouring in daily, wreaked medical infrastructure and negligent attitude of authorities has given space to hopelessness in the public minds.
Ayushi Bharti, a medical and psychiatric social worker from Patna shares how besides being trained under several aspects of psychological research it gets very hard to pull yourself up when something like this happens with the dear ones or even yourself. “COVID-19 has mentally paralysed us making us believe that life is a mere joke and death may come to any. This global pandemic has created a havoc amongst us. I just don’t know whether I will be alive tomorrow or not/ any of my kins. Ambience of fear, intensified dilemma, negligence, anxiety, nosophobia is seen outside the house. We’re gasping more negativity than hope, people are anguish, highly aghasted, suffering with PTSD as we are bearing irreplaceable losses. All of us are not at all in the correct frame of mind to even see that after dusk there’s always going to come a dawn, a ray of hope, probably life feels shattered at the moment. But we need to pick up ourselves and help the people as much as we can.”
She further added that the state is partially responsible for damaging the lives of people with the second wave of COVID-19 a wreak havoc, in her view they are fully aware, equipped with all the resources needed to curb any mishap but couldn’t see any. Tsunami of deaths, unavailability of hospitals, black marketing of medicines/ oxygen cylinders is what we are facing. “Why do we cast vote, to let our loved ones die because of their negligent behaviour and incapabilities? The state needs to be well prepared not ill prepared”, Ayushi Bharti.
While we’re all locked indoors with technology being the only link to the world, several young and resourceful groups have come forward to help the needful in arranging medicines, beds, oxygen cylinders and ambulances. Social media became a wonderful tool to curate all the available information about valid resources and efforts of the volunteers helped in verifying all the gathered information to help the needy and suffering patients. With the efforts of determined and skillful youth of Bihar, several lives were saved and to some extent hope was restored among the people.
Prominent figures from several fields, politics, fashion, media and entertainment, took to social media to escalate the reach of the posts and details of genuine and trusted resources shared among groups. People are trying to calm each other down and spread some positivity to enable everyone to fight corona and get back to normal lives as soon as possible.
Yumna Ahmed who hails from Bihar is a freelance journalist and a postgraduate in convergent journalism from AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.