Twin Worries In Bengal’s Covid Battle Health Officials Cite People’s Aversion To Get Tested For The Virus And Shift To Safe Houses

Many Covid patients are staying at home with fever and are telling health workers that they would only go to hospital if they suffer from breathlessness. They are not realising that going to hospital in a critical condition does not make sense
Sanjay Mandal   |   TT   |   Calcutta   |   03.11.20  :  Reluctance to get tested for Covid-19 or stay at a safe house even if there is no proper isolation facility at home are two big worries of the state government in its fight against the coronavirus, officials and public health experts said on Monday.

A 15-year-old boy who lives in a slum on Keyatala Road in south Calcutta had a fever during Durga Puja. His family approached a doctor and asked him to write a prescription.

“I refused to write a prescription and instead wrote advice for a Covid test,” said Sudipta Mitra, physician and chief executive of Peerless Hospital. The boy's family said they got the test done a day after Dashami and he turned out to be positive.

The boy’s uncle said Calcutta Municipal Corporation and health department officials had initially called them up to enquire about his condition.

“The officials had at first said he could stay at home. But when a team of CMC health workers came to our house, they shouted at us for keeping all our windows open. Then they said since we have a common toilet, my nephew and his parents needed to be shifted,” said the patient’s uncle.

He alleged that the CMC workers had threatened to call police if the boy was not shifted.

“The family members started shouting at me saying if I didn't get the boy tested, they would not have faced such a problem. I then arranged for the boy to stay at a private safe house and the parents at a quarantine centre,” Mitra said.

CMC and health department officials and public health experts said there were several factors leading to the situation.

Councillors’ role

A CMC official said that during the initial days of the pandemic, councillors were taking an active role in convincing confirmed or suspected Covid patients to get admitted to hospital or shift to safe houses and quarantine centres.

“But the involvement of councillors in several wards has reduced significantly. This is creating problems for us in shifting patients and their contacts to safe houses or hospitals and quarantine centres,” the official said.

“If a councillor approaches a family, they feel reassured. Health workers often don’t have the required communication skills and that is creating problems.”

Apathy to get tested

“Even a fortnight back, CMC workers who collect samples for Covid tests from home were much in demand. We were unable to give them dates. But the demand has dropped sharply over the past 20 days,” the CMC official said.

A physician attached to the fever clinic of a government hospital said many patients were insisting that we prescribe drugs such as paracetamol and azithromycin, instead of advising a Covid test. “Many others are getting those prescriptions photocopied and going to pharmacies to buy the drugs," said the doctor.

Another doctor said his prescription for an influenza patient was circulating through WhatsApp.

Hospital aversion

The state government had earlier recommended that Covid patients with no symptoms stay at home provided they could isolate themselves from other family members. The intention behind the advice for home isolation was to free hospital beds for critical patients.

CMC health department officials and public health experts, however, said even patients with no isolation facilities at home were preferring to stay at home. “This is a conflict we are facing everywhere. Often health workers are behaving rudely but that is a natural fallout of what is happening,” said Abhijit Chowdhury, a public health expert.

A CMC official said the civic body’s quarantine facility in New Town barely had 11 occupants on Monday. The number was more than 250 a few months back.

“The number of active Covid cases in Calcutta is still very high. The low occupancy at quarantine facilities suggest more and more patients are preferring to stay at home,” the official said.

The 200 safe homes run by the state government can accommodate 11,507 people. On Monday, there were only 965 occupants, a state health department official said.

“Many Covid patients are staying at home with fever and are telling health workers that they would only go to hospital if they suffer from breathlessness. They are not realising that going to hospital in a critical condition does not make sense,” said Chowdhury.

He said this was one of the reasons why the ICU beds at many hospitals were all occupied.