BHAGALPUR, India, Nov. 17 (Reuters) – At the height of India’s first wave of COVID-19 last year, the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital (JLNMCH) in Bhagalpur’s eastern district was an example of the dire state of health care in most of the rural areas.
Wards and ICUs were so overrun with patients and relatives that armed escorts went on their rounds with doctors in case violence broke out. Doctors said when a second wave hit India this year, the government hospital with some 800 beds and intended to serve millions of people barely made it through.
But the misery brought on by the pandemic is giving JLNMCH a new lease of life as authorities attempt to address the chronic underinvestment in health in India, especially in Bhagalpur’s home state of Bihar, where health care infrastructure is among the worst in the country.
The hospital has now set up its own oxygen generators that will meet nearly all of its demand, hired dozens of new nurses, nearly doubled its ICU capacity, and connected hundreds of beds to piped oxygen for the first time in years. The pink, badly peeling exterior could also get a fresh coat of paint, the hospital’s superintendent said.
Work on a swanky new 200-bed advanced care hospital, which began a few years ago, has accelerated this year and is likely to be completed in the first half of next year.
“COVID has been a blessing to us,” Asim Kumar Das, JLNMCH’s medical superintendent, told Reuters in an interview at the hospital. “While it destroyed humanity and caused tremendous suffering, it has brought us so many changes to the hospital infrastructure.”
Das said the hospital was in talks with the state government for an additional 200 beds in the main complex, along with additional staff, as there was an “acute shortage” of doctors and paramedics.
Health infrastructure is starting to receive similar attention in many parts of India, government figures show.
FUNDS FLOW TO OXYGEN
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, heavily criticized in April and May for the record number of coronavirus infections and deaths, has partnered with states and government-run companies to provide funds to hospitals so that all of India’s nearly 750 districts cover at least have one oxygen factory.
According to the federal government, about 4,000 have been put into use in recent months.
The government has also pledged to build many new hospitals and upgrade existing ones in the coming years with the investment of about $9 billion — part of a larger plan to double the number of hospital beds to two per 1,000 people.
Many states also plan to double their health care spending, says the federal government, which aims to increase its public health spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2024/25, from 1.2% this fiscal year.
According to World Bank data, India’s public health budget is among the lowest in the world, meaning citizens’ own spending is among the highest.
By next year, Bihar alone has pledged to complete construction of 1,600 new government hospitals at a cost of nearly $500 million. As of 2018, the state had fewer than 80 major sub-district and district hospitals.
“It’s a good start, there’s no doubt about it,” said cardiologist and epidemiologist K. Srinath Reddy, president of the nonprofit Public Health Foundation of India.
“But without the human resources – they have to be big enough, well trained and well distributed across the country – the infrastructure alone will not work. So this element needs to be addressed as soon as possible.”
Bhagalpur hospital now has 60 ICU beds, but several rooms were locked or empty during a recent Reuters visit.
“We are short of human resources,” said the department’s doctor on duty, Mahesh Kumar, in one of the unoccupied rooms where 16 beds were made up of blue mattresses. “We need trained doctors and paramedics. If we get them, we can easily keep all the ICU rooms up and running.”
Bihar’s government-run district hospitals have one of the worst ratios of doctors and nurses to patients, according to government data released in August.
New Delhi has more than twice the national average workforce, which falls short of the federal government’s own parameters.
In a report presenting the data, the government identified staff shortages as one of the key issues and said it is working to correct it.
Modi opened nine medical colleges in the province’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, late last month, saying India could produce more doctors in the next 10-12 years than the first 70 years of India’s independence from British rule in 1947 .
A plunge in the number of COVID-19 cases has given India some time.
JLNMCH of Bhagalpur, on the banks of the holy river Ganges, has not admitted a single COVID-19 patient in the past two months, reflecting the low number of new cases in Bihar, which is estimated to have reached a large majority of the population in July. were naturally infected.
A building block set aside to take some 100 COVID-19 patients was completely empty, while in the pediatric ICU 16 beds were kept empty in case a new wave of children hit, as is feared.
“Since the second wave, there has been an improvement in our infrastructure and also in the competence of the medical staff,” said Kumar Gaurav, a psychiatrist who led the hospital during the last two waves because most senior doctors had contracted or had been infected with the virus. reluctant to take responsibility.
“If a third wave materializes, or something else comes along, we’ll be able to handle it much better.”
Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Edited by Lincoln Feast.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.