Buxar: On 3 May, at around 4 pm, a speeding car stopped at the gate of the District Covid Care Centre in Buxar Civil Lines. A police personnel deployed there asked a few questions and called for a strecher. As the four worried family members tried to rush inside, the policeman remarked: “There’s no point in hurrying now. The patient looks like a dead man.”
Turned out, he was right. The patient, 70-year-old Veerendra Tiwary, was declared dead by doctors at the hospital. The family brought the body out soon, and left in their car for cremation.
The district was declared “Covid-free” after the “last case” was recorded on 17 January, according to Additional Sub-Divisional Magistrate (ASDM) Deepak Kumar, but it now sees more than 100 cases every day. On 3 May, Buxar reported 104 new Covid cases and 25 deaths, according to figures released by the Bihar health ministry.
And while officials claim there is no shortage of oxygen, the deaths are occurring mainly due to lack of ventilators at the government hospitals, doctors and medical staff working there said.
Buxar has only six ventilators in all in its two government hospitals designated for Covid treatment, and none of them is operational.
“There is no ventilator in our district. Doctors cannot save a person who is extremely critical. Each day, we witness such deaths. Now I can look and tell if a patient will survive or not,” said the policeman mentioned above, while speaking to ThePrint.
On 21 April, after a Covid patient died, the person’s family allegedly attacked the doctors at the hospital, said Kumar, who is also the nodal officer for Covid management in the district. The district authorities have since deployed police personnel for the security of doctors and other medical staff.
This Covid care centre has 67 oxygen beds, Kumar said, adding: “For the past one week, however, 4-5 deaths are being reported from the centre every day. Those who are critical, do not survive.”
Asked about ventilators, Kumar said there are two at the centre, but they can’t be used. “…as of now, both are not functional as we do not have any technician to operate it,” he said.
Around 2 km away from the Civil Lines Covid care centre, the Sadar Hospital has four ventilators that it got from the PM Cares fund last year. But they are locked in a room on the second floor of the facility.
“We received them last year. But without any expert or anaesthetist, we cannot operate them,” Dr Bhupendra Nath, a doctor at the hospital, told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, four private hospitals in the district have six ventilators between them, but not all of them are functioning there either.
District Magistrate Aman Samir said: “I have held meetings with the private hospitals. We are outsourcing technicians who can help us run these ventilators. Within a week, all the ventilators will be functional.”
As of 3 May, Bihar had a total of 1,07,667 active Covid cases, 1,458 of them in Buxar, according to official figures.
From ‘Corona-free district’ to 25 deaths in a day
Between 17 January and 19 March, Buxar did not report any new Covid case and had declared itself “Corona free district” in the mean time, said Kumar.
However, around Holi, it saw a massive influx of migrants returning home. As many as 23 trains stop at the Buxar railway station.
And this changed things, said DM Samir.
Buxar has a population of more than 17 lakh, according to the 2011 census.
On 19 March, the district reported its first case since 17 January as the second Covid wave hit the country. According to official data, the district reported 23 cases on 1 April. By 15 April, this number grew to 100 per day, and has since only increased.
The testing numbers are not encouraging either, though the administration claimed they hadn’t stopped testing even after declaring the district Covid-free.
“We conducted 4,000 tests every day earlier. But now the number of tests has been reduced. We test 2,000 people every day, out of which 750 are RT-PCR and the rest are antigen,” said the DM.
A senior official in the administration, who did not wish to be named, said RT-PCR samples have to be sent to Patna and the labs there are overburdened due to which they are not able to increase the number of tests.
Amid the surge in Covid cases, and also deaths, with more patients reporting with complaints of breathlessness, the district is functioning without any operational ventilator. The biggest challenge before the district administration now is to find a pulmonologist who can operate a ventilator, said officials.
ThePrint also visited VK Global Hospital, a private Covid facility, and found that one of its three ventilators is not functional. The hospital, parts of it under construction, has 20 oxygen beds, and it charges Rs 150 per hour from the patients for oxygen.
The hospitals also pointed out that there is an “alarmingly” high number of patients who test negative for Covid but their CT scans show the symptoms, adding that many such patients are dying, though this does not reflect in the official data of Covid deaths.
Buxar, the Lok Sabha constituency represented by Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Chaubey, does not have any medical college of its own. Even before Covid-19 hit the country, the district had been highly dependent on Varanasi and Patna for surgeries and emergencies that required ventilator support for the patients.
ThePrint reached Congress leader Munna Tiwari, who is the local MLA, Tuesday afternoon for a comment, but his office said he would be able to talk only later in the day. This report will be updated when a response is received.
Lack of medical staff
Even as the district administration struggles to find technicians, the hospitals also complain of inadequate medical staff.
The Sadar hospital, which can accommodate more than 20 patients on oxygen support, has 34 sanctioned posts for doctors and 63 posts for nurses. But as of now, only 24 doctors and 46 nurses are employed.
The Civil Lines hospital has 16 doctors and 20 nurses. Most of the doctors and other staff ThePrint spoke to at the hospital, who did not wish to be named, said this number is “highly inadequate”.
Dr V.K. Singh, the owner of VK Global Hospital, also told ThePrint that they are operating with just “four 4 doctors and four nurses”.
Dr Bhupendra Nath of Sadar Hospital said: “All these patients who are on oxygen support have tested negative for Covid-19 but they continue to show Covid symptoms. The breathlessness problem is alarming. We have enough supply of oxygen but we do not have enough equipment.”
He added: “We tried everywhere. But there is not a single oxygen flowmetre available in entire Bihar.”
ThePrint found social activist Ramji Singh at the Sadar hospital who had come to hand over five oxygen flowmetres to the facility.
He concurred with Nath that these were not available anywhere in Bihar, and that he got them from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, the body of 62-year-old Praduman Pal from Kodhi village lay unattended on a stretcher at the Sadar Hospital. A nurse who had just finished her shift said: “He was gasping for oxygen. We did an antigen test. The result came in half an hour, he was already dead by then.”
The antigen test said he was Covid positive.
The body remained on the stretcher as drivers of the hospital ambulance also fell sick a couple of days ago, a staff member said. The patient’s brother was around — in grief, and yet to figure out how to take the body for cremation.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)