Bihar’s junior doctors forced to continue treating COVID-19 patients despite showing symptoms

27 March 2020
On 23 March, the Junior Doctors Association of Patna's designated COVID-19 hospital wrote a letter to the hospital's superintendent and appealed to send 83 junior doctors to home quarantine, as they were exhibiting symptoms of the disease. (This representative photo is from MMG Hospital in Ghaziabad on 16 March 2020.)
Saqib Ali / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
On 23 March, the Junior Doctors Association of Patna's designated COVID-19 hospital wrote a letter to the hospital's superintendent and appealed to send 83 junior doctors to home quarantine, as they were exhibiting symptoms of the disease. (This representative photo is from MMG Hospital in Ghaziabad on 16 March 2020.)
Saqib Ali / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

The Nalanda Medical College and Hospital, in Patna, has been designated by the Bihar government as the state’s primary hospital to treat cases of COVID-19. The government claims that the hospital’s isolation ward has 600 beds. On 23 March, the hospital’s association of junior doctors wrote a letter to the NMCH’s superintendent. Signed by a dozen doctors, the letter said that most of the junior residents working in the hospital’s out-patient department, emergency and isolation wards had come in contact with the coronavirus patients and were exhibiting symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat. On consulting senior doctors, the letter added, “we have been advised to go for home quarantine for a period of 15 days.”

After receiving the letter, the NMCH superintendent wrote to the principal secretary of the state’s education department, asking for directions from the health department for quarantining 83 junior doctors who were showing symptoms. Although two days have passed, no concrete directions have arrived. Neither have samples been taken from the doctors for testing. The junior doctors continue to treat patients in the meantime.

The first COVID-19 cases in Bihar were reported on 22 March, when test results for two patients were found to be positive. One of them, 38-year-old Saif Ali from Munger district, had been admitted at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Patna, on 19 March. He died the night before his test result came back. The other patient, who was also admitted at AIIMS Patna, was a woman whose son had recently returned from Italy. The police have kept her son under quarantine. On 23 March, a third patient, Rahul Kumar, tested positive for COVID-19. Kumar had recently visited Scotland, which had already seen 499 cases, of whom 14 had died. He was admitted at NMCH, and the junior doctors seem to have contracted the coronavirus while treating him.

The only laboratory in Bihar testing possible COVID-19 samples is Patna’s Rajendra Memorial Research Institute. There are plans to open a test lab at Darbhanga Medical College, but there has been little progress in setting it up over the past ten days. “The test kit has not even arrived yet,” Dr Ragini Mishra, the state epidemiologist, told me. “Once the kit arrives, it will be calibrated, then sent to Pune. Only once we get approval from Pune can we start testing. The entire process will take at least fifteen days.”

Although Bihar did not have any COVID-19 cases until 22 March, the number of positive test results is increasing. One patient initially tested negative, but is clearly showing symptoms. According to the RMRI director, Dr PK Das, another sample was taken from the patient and sent to the National Virology Laboratory in Pune, and the NVL has found the test to be positive.

Umesh Kumar Ray is a freelance journalist in Patna.

Keywords: COVID-19 public health Bihar Indian Council of Medical Research Testing kits
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