Combating Covid-19

P Anima | Updated on March 28, 2020 Published on March 27, 2020

Novel care: The treatment for Covid-19 has been streamlined in a few hospitals   -  BIBEK CHETTRI

As the battle to control a rampaging virus intensifies, planning and innovation replace the initial sense of alarm in hospitals

The hospital in the heart of New Delhi is all geared up for battle. At the Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC), a new centre has been set up for the exclusive care of patients infected by the novel coronavirus.

“We can take in 19 patients at any given time, and that will include five who need intensive care. We are in a much better position than we were last week,” says Dr Ghanshyam Pangtey, professor at LHMC.

As day-to-day life comes to a standstill with a nationwide lockdown, BLink revisits the five medical professionals who had, a week earlier, spoken of anxieties and their efforts to combat the deadly virus. Plans have replaced the helplessness of the last few weeks. The crisis is spurring innovation as well as compassion.

Dr Pangtey takes heart in the fact that the number of infected patients in India has not grown as alarmingly as it did in Italy or the US. “We are still in the initial stages of the infection. But, so far, we have done well. The duration of the disease is normally of 14 days and the lockdown of 21 days covers that period well,” he says.

With the stress on Covid-19 and emergency cases, the number of out-patients has thinned. Of concern, however, are small pockets such as Bhilwara, in Rajasthan, where two healthcare workers were found to be Covid-19 positive, Dr Pangtey says. While healthcare workers continue to get infected, none of them has so far faced severe respiratory problems, which often require intensive care.

Though essentials such as N-95 masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) are in stock, he points to their heightened use of late, which necessitates a steady supply. “The equipment are in great demand despite the rationing. We can manage for now, but it is a struggle as very few companies supply the materials,” he stresses.

Sarojini Frank, senior nursing manager at the hospital, is making sure that the frontline caregivers are being looked after in the wake of the lockdown. “Arrangements have been made in the medical college hostel to accommodate nurses who live far from the hospital,” says Frank, who is also the president of the LHMC Nurses’ Union. Curfew passes, she says, have been prepared for those using personal transport.

Apart from the new centre for Covid-19 patients, Frank points out that an entire floor has been cleared for the healthcare professionals who will take care of them. “Those attending to infected patients will not be going home,” she adds.

The Government Medical College in Ernakulam, Kerala, is now a nodal centre for Covid-19. Patients with other illnesses have been shifted elsewhere and the hospital set aside for the infected and quarantined.

“It is streamlined now. With the lockdown, duty at the airports has ended and so has out-patient care, as the hospital is now a nodal centre,” says Dr Rohith Suresh, a house surgeon.

Though work is regimented, the instance of a healthcare worker catching the infection in Kottayam has spurred apprehension in the community. “That has instilled fear in a few,” he adds.

This explains why health officials such as Twinkle Prabhakaran are thinking up ways to boost the morale of healthcare workers. Prabhakaran, the district tuberculosis officer in Kottayam, used the fund set aside for the World Tuberculosis Day function — which were to have been held last week — to make more protective masks for healthcare workers.

“We got around 5,000 masks stitched and distributed them among healthcare workers,” he says.

While an order has been placed for more PPE, local makers are facing a shortage of raw material and a spike in demand. “The lockdown and closure of inter-state borders have made procurement difficult. We are readying plans B and C, such as stitching protective gear with other materials or procuring more surgical gowns,” he adds.

Kottayam, he notes, has a large elderly population vulnerable to the virus and may require intensive care, if infected. Prabhakaran, who is co-coordinating with the private sector in handling the pandemic, says spaces and beds have been readied in the government medical college, as also government and private hospitals, for incoming patients.

“Three buildings which were not in use have been identified and places with cots and beds lying idle are being mobilised,” he adds.

The lockdown, though tough, has given a sense of assurance to India’s healthcare workers, says Dr Jai Ranjan Ram, consultant psychiatrist at Kolkata’s Apollo Gleneagles Hospital. “In the government hospitals, there is a sense that the issue is being taken seriously. I think the initial worry has waned to an extent, as authorities have shown they are willing to do whatever it takes,” he says.

Rural regions, he points out, might be a different story in terms of equipment. “The government is caught between the devil and the deep sea, and it acted decisively in the only way it could — through a lockdown. But shutdowns such as these also spur anxiety and a spectrum of psychological issues,” he notes.

As the country retreats indoors and an unusual calm descends on its normally chaotic streets, Dr Pangtey observes, “I just hope this is not the calm before the storm; that tomorrow is another good day.”

P Anima

Published on March 27, 2020

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