The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown in Madhya Pradesh is the perfect example of how not to handle a health crisis.
The state has no health minister and the department of health has been debilitated by the disease already. And the coronavirus is yet to spread all across the state. Almost 97 per cent of Madhya Pradesh’s Covid-19 cases have been reported from the western region — the rest of the state is still relatively unscathed. However, this scenario is gradually changing.
The state’s additional chief secretary of health Mohammad Suleman claimed that the government is prepared to deal with the epidemic. Production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits for medical personnel treating Covid patients has started in the state and all the patients are receiving free-of-cost treatment. He said, “We have ensured development of PPE kits at the local level only. Currently, we are producing around 10,000 PPE kits daily at a factory in Pithampur near Indore and providing it to our people. Till now we have distributed about one lakh PPE kits.”
He said that the state government has more than 9.5 lakh tablets of hydroxychloroquine and is also maintaining sufficient reserves of N-95 masks.
Suleman further revealed that so far 25 special hospitals have been set up for the Covid patients in Madhya Pradesh. In addition to this, 66 health centres and more than 400 Covid service centres have also been established.
Initially, the testing capacity was low but it has been increased now. In the initial phase, 200-300 tests were being conducted on a daily basis. This number has now gone up to 1,600-1,800 per day. Negotiations are going on to provide testing facility at 14 private labs too. Three testing machines were also procured, according to government officials. This means that the preparations required to deal with a pandemic are still under progress in the third week of April.
We must ask why a large state like Madhya Pradesh took this long to awaken to the threat posed by Covid-19. That too when it had encountered several epidemics in the past. In 2012 and 2015, the state had witnessed several cases of Swine Flu. And there are some fixed protocols in place to deal with epidemic-like situations.
Now, the total number of cases in Madhya Pradesh is 1,407. The maximum number of deaths (47) is from Indore, while six people each died in Bhopal and Ujjain. Coronavirus casualties from other districts are as following — Dewas (5), Khargone (4), and Chhindwara (1). Out of the 52 districts of the state, Covid patients have been identified in 25.
Situation in Indore
Indore is considered the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh and is also called “Mini Bombay”. The first Covid case was reported on 25 March in Indore. Today, there are almost 900 Covid cases in this city alone. Initially, only 4 people were tested in Indore.
Suleman concedes that there might be more cases than being reported. It means that the state administration could not assess the severity of the situation despite the lockdown.
The infection was spreading rapidly in densely populated areas and links were also being traced to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Nizamuddin Markaz. Contact tracing of infected persons was required to break the chain of the infection.
Attacks on medical teams deployed for coronavirus testing in Tatpatti Bakhal clearly indicates that apart from a serious lapse in security, there is also a clear lack of strategy to convince people against rumours. Today, Covid cases in Dhar, Dewas, Ratlam are also being connected to Indore. And there are reports of people escaping quarantine.
Suleman said that the initial assessment of Covid cases shows that the patients could not be saved after spending 3.5 (or more) days in the hospital. It means that they were brought to the hospital too late.
Today, the state administration is marking the patients quite early, they are being kept in isolation and many are being saved by being admitted to the ICU if needed. It also means that the story of Covid cases in Indore would have been completely different if what is being done today had been done in March.
But nothing like this happened. So, the mortality rate of Covid patients in Madhya Pradesh is much higher than the national average of 3.2 per cent. It reached a high of 9 per cent, now it has been slowly brought down to about 5 per cent. Indore’s mortality rate is 5.58 per cent.
Today, the number of tests carried out, self-quarantines and institutional quarantines is far greater. People suspected to be suffering from Covid are being confined to hospitals and not being allowed to roam freely.
An ailing health department
Now, let’s talk about the situation in the state capital of Bhopal where the health department was in the news for the wrong reasons. Half of the Covid-positive cases in Bhopal are linked to the health department. A three-member team is still investigating how the health department turned into a ‘super spreader’.
We should also take into account that officials of the health department toured many districts and they might have acted as coronavirus carriers. Three IAS officials were also included in the list of infected members of this ailing health department.
Now, it is being reported that two IAS officers, including a woman posted in the state health department, are among those who have recovered from the disease. They were discharged from the hospital after their report turned negative. Both have been asked to stay at home for the next 14 days.
Suleman admitted that more caution should have been exercised. Although Pallavi Jain — who was the principal secretary of the health department — had no visible symptoms, she continued to work. She started working from home only after testing positive, but by then she could have spread it to many others. Today, marking patients, isolating, testing and treating them has become a standard operating procedure. Its effect will gradually be seen when India flattens the coronavirus curve.
Chief minister as health minister
But in Madhya Pradesh there is another crisis — the chief minister is acting as the health minister, as Suleman claims. Shivraj Chouhan has held 25 video conferences and spent more than 58 hours discussing Covid management. The principal secretary is conducting daily meetings.
As of now, there is a government in Madhya Pradesh, there is also a chief minister, but there is no cabinet or health minister.
Is this even remotely an ideal situation when a pandemic is raging across the state? Is this not playing with the lives of millions of people in Madhya Pradesh? Can a CM fight this kind of battle on his own or does the state government consider bureaucrats more efficient than legislators? Or is the matter stuck in myriad calculations of political gains and losses, the bargaining for the ministerial berths, even in this pandemic era?
Views are personal.