Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has stated in an official letter to NS Nigam, Health Secretary, West Bengal, “To keep mortality less than 1%, weekly case fatality needs to be monitored.”
West Bengal is being criticised for inadequate number of Covid tests - which is far lower than the national average. According to many experts, adequate number of Covid tests is the first step towards an efficient management of this pandemic. Now, along with the Real-Time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests, the state government has also started antigen tests in heavily affected areas.
Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, and Howrah are the most affected districts. In southern Bengal, Jhargram, Purulia, Nadia, East Medinipore, and Hoogly are also at high risk.
A significant number of allegations have surfaced in West Bengal regarding the denial of admission due to non-availability of beds. Some patients have also reported serious non-cooperation from a few hospitals. Few patients have died without treatment. It has also been revealed that the state government’s official portal is showing incorrect data regarding the availability of Covid beds. The official portal informed, as of August 3, the total number of Covid beds across West Bengal is 11560 and that there are 7065 vacant beds.
Dr. Arijit Ghosh, associated with the Tapan Sinha Hospital,Tollygunge, Kolkata, told BE, “The need of the hour is to increase the bed count - both in private and public hospitals. The government portal is showing some data about available beds but the reality is quite different from that.”
The state government has promised to increase 1,000 hospital beds across the five most affected districts. Stadiums and sports complexes in states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, and Telangana are being repurposed to manage the pandemic. The Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata is also being considered. The Dumurjala Stadium in Howrah and the Biswa Bangla Krirangan in Jalpaiguri have already been converted into a quarantine centre and a Covid hospital respectively.
The state government is lacking in contact tracing, appropriate sanitisation of hospitals, and sanitisation of houses of affected patients. Lack of ambulances has also been a regular complaint and people are dying on way to the hospital. Private ambulance providers are demanding abnormal fares even for a minimum distance in absence of stringent governmental supervision. In many cases, body disposal protocols laid by the central Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are not being maintained.
Another recent allegation is that many contractual security staff recruited by theKolkata Police in Kolkata’s Beleghata Infectious Diseases Hospital are not getting adequate washrooms and rest rooms. They have also alleged that their rooms are not even being sanitised by the government. Front line workers like security and sanitisation staff should be better protected by the government.
The West Bengal government has set up two Protocol Monitoring Teams (PMTs) consisting of three medical experts in each team for conducting surprise visits to hospitals. These teams have found serious mismanagement regarding prescribing oxygen doses and steroids along with mismanagement of Intensive Care Units (ICUs).
West Bengal is the first state to order an advanced testing equipment from a Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company to conduct coronavirus tests on the Cobas 6800/8800 system. This testing equipment is expected to arrive by mid-August. It has a capacity to test a lakh of samples daily and will ramp up the state’s test rate.
The daily Covid infection rate is increasing in the state. However, the patient discharge rate in Bengal has improved to 68%. It is higher than the national average of 63%. The government has directed the 78 dedicated Covid hospitals to form Quick Response Teams (QRTs) to treat critical patients for bringing down the death rate. Additionally, a section of people is now trying to manage their treatment in home-quarantine. The state government should supervise them regularly with the help of healthcare professionals. Citizens will have to help the government to combat the pandemic by following accurate measures and social distancing. The central government, too, must respond to the state’s continuous appeal for more Covid management funds.