New Delhi: Doctors at a number of Delhi’s mohalla clinics did not turn up for work Wednesday as they are anxious after one of their colleagues tested positive for the coronavirus Monday.
Several empanelled doctors that ThePrint spoke to complained of no proper protection measures taken by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, adding poor condition of the mohalla clinics also leaves them at high risk of contracting the virus.
Sources told ThePrint that the Delhi government has not formally shut down the clinics but has left it to the discretion of doctors to attend following the announcement of the 21-day lockdown Tuesday night.
At least 50 mohalla clinics in South Delhi were without doctors, a source said. The national capital has 450 such clinics.
Some of the doctors ThePrint spoke alleged ambiguity in the Delhi government over their situation.
According to an order issued by the state nodal officer of Aam Aadmi Mohalla Clinics (AAMC) cell, Dwarka, Dr Shalley Kamra, the clinic services were suspended until 31 March. The order, accessed by ThePrint, was issued around Tuesday noon. Within hours, however, it was withdrawn by the government, and it was left to the doctors to decide if they want to visit the clinics.
Speaking to ThePrint, Kamra said the decision was taken by the Delhi government’s health ministry. “There was a committee constituted for this and it is in the hands of the minister and his office, as it is a policy issue.”
She said doctors were expected to report to work according to the CM’s latest decision, adding she was helping in the implementation of the order.
ThePrint reached out to Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain and his office through phone calls and text messages for a comment, but did not receive a reply till the time of publishing. This report will be updated when the ministry responds.
The doctors have been on the edge ever since Dr Gopal Jha, who attended a mohalla clinic in Dilshad Garden, tested positive for the Covid-19 Monday. He had treated a woman with a history of travel to Saudi Arabia, who has since tested positive, before she went to Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital with high fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The doctor had also been admitted to the GTB Hospital, from where he has now been shifted to the Safdarjung Hospital. He is, however, out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) now and was stated to be stable as of Tuesday evening, sources told ThePrint. His wife, also a doctor empanelled with the Delhi government, and his daughter have been quarantined.
The doctor had continued to see patients at the mohalla clinic even after the woman had tested positive for the virus. The clinic was finally shut down Monday evening and the district surveillance team is now doing contact tracing to figure out who all could be at risk.
‘Not enough protective gear’
Chief among the doctors’ complaints is the lack of sufficient protective gear. The doctors said only a few have been provided surgical masks while the rest have been given N95 masks, which they said cannot help prevent any infection in such a scenario.
“We have no protection gear, no proper masks, so it’s a dangerous situation for us and our families now,” said a doctor at a Mohalla clinic who did not want to be named. “It is about time the clinics were closed.”
For the past four days, said Dr V.K. Gupta, who sits at a mohalla clinic in Lajpat Nagar, he has been counselling several patients, especially the senior citizens who come to him. “We are patient listeners for the elderly who come for checkups out of anxiety even if they show no symptoms,” he said.
“Doctors abroad are being provided head-to-toe protective gear. Here the government isn’t even providing sufficient sanitisers at our clinics. How do we go on?” asked another doctor at a clinic in Malviya Nagar.
A health ministry official, who did not want to be named, however, told ThePrint all efforts are being made to ensure doctors get adequate protective gear.
‘Clinics not properly sterlised’
The doctors also complained that most mohalla clinics were not being sterilised.
Dr D.D. Arora, a doctor at the Shaheen Bagh mohalla clinic, said sterilisation wasn’t being done every day. “I had been getting 100-150 patients daily but the rush Tuesday morning was less since the protest (site) has been cleared.” Early Tuesday morning, the Delhi Police cleared the protest site in Shaheen Bagh, which had become the heart of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests since 15 December last year.
Dr Arora said working under these conditions was taking its toll on them. “I feel we need to be given at least a week off to recuperate as it has led to even depression in some of us. It is not an easy situation. It is a first-of-its-kind one.”
Dr Intehaam, a doctor at another mohalla clinic, said, “We are essential service. We want to serve the public. But people must understand that we have families too. If we get infected, where do they go.”
He added, “The least the government can do is provide gear, no matter how expensive. We can only save lives if we remain sane and alive.”
When contacted, Chief District Medical Officer (South East) Dr Geeta confirmed that she had been contacted by several mohalla clinic doctors regarding their concerns. “We are waiting for final orders from the ministers concerned and the Delhi government senior officials,” she said.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.