The deaths of two senior doctors in Kolkata in quick succession may, on the face of it, appear to be a part of coronavirus statistics. Yes and No. It is suitably palpable that the twin tragedies at the AMRI Hospital in Salt Lake have caused a flutter in the medical roost, if the immediate reaction of doctors and nurses is any indication.
The first was a member of the West Bengal Health Service and in control of the health department’s Central Medical Store that controls the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment. One could argue that he was infected with Covid-19 while discharging his duty. The second was a noted orthopaedist; the fact that he was a diabetic is incidental.
The grim truth must be that both doctors have died, as indeed have 22 others in the state. Hence the Indian Medical Association’s demand for a designated hospital to treat doctors and other health workers should they get infected by coronavirus. The suggestion calls for serious reflection by the health department, even if it will only extend the loop of infections with unwell health workers having to be treated by those who are well.
Palpably enough, AMRI, a joint venture in Jyoti Basu’s time and now a private enterprise, has not been able to deliver. Not the least perhaps because it is a general hospital and not a designated facility, like the ID Hospital and more recently, MR Bangur Hospital. Possibly, therefore, Ohio Hospital in New Town, which has been requisitioned by the state government to set up a designated Covid-19 treatment centre, can well be reserved for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers.
It is pretty obvious that whoever comes in touch with a patient is vulnerable. Very recently, a nurse at Howrah District Hospital had afflicted as many as 17 newborns. It is cause for alarm too that doctors are facing a shortage of vital personal protective equipment (PPE). There is also a dearth of other protective gear, notably N95 masks at fair price shops and even hand sanitisers.
Going by the trend of the discussions at Tuesday’s meeting with the Chief Minister, the shortage of essentials ironically being faced by doctors and the medical fraternity in general is particularly acute in the government hospitals. Several junior doctors have been afflicted at the NRS Hospital and Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, both once the template of public sector healthcare.
Clearly, adequate preventive measures are yet to be taken for doctors and other supporting staff. Small wonder that the highest number of afflictions within the medical fraternity in the country have been reported in West Bengal ~ 59, including doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians. That dubious distinction in the midst of the pandemic needs urgently to be addressed.
Doctors are increasingly being exposed to infection given the shortage of protective gear. This is the cruel irony that the state government will have to cope with. The shortage is dire; the enormity of the tragedy has deepened as the lockdown enters the second month. Home quarantine is the easy way out.