Bihar battles crumbling healthcare during COVID

​Saving the doctorReuters
​Saving the doctor
According to a report by Reuters, guards armed with rifles escort Dr. Kumar Gaurav as he makes the rounds at his hospital on the banks of the Ganges River. The guards are there to protect him from the relatives of patients, including those suffering from COVID-19. The relatives keep barging into the wards, even the ICU, to stroke and feed their loved ones, often without wearing even the flimsiest of masks as barriers against the novel coronavirus.
​Angry relativesReuters
​Angry relatives
"If we stop them, they get angry," he says. "They want to give homemade meals to their patients, and some even want to massage their patients. And they are taking the infections from our ICUs to the other people in the society." He stops to tell the wife of a patient in the ICU she must leave. She obeys, only to return after a few minutes from another entrance.
​Resource crunchReuters
​Resource crunch
In April, as the pandemic struck in Bihar, the 900-bed Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital was selected as one of just four COVID-dedicated hospitals for a population of 100 million people – at least in theory. In practice, Kumar says the nearest hospital with proper critical-care facilities is around 200 kilometers away. And with proper healthcare in the surrounding rural areas difficult to find, general patients have nowhere else to go but his hospital.
​Collapsing healthcareReuters
​Collapsing healthcare
In June, Kumar says, the district administration instructed the hospital to treat uninfected patients, too. "In an ideal world, there should not be any non-COVID patients in this hospital," Kumar says. The healthcare system in Bhagalpur, like many other parts of Bihar, is on the verge of collapse, he says.

Kumar says he feels powerless to prevent the lapses in isolation of the COVID patients. "We don't know who is positive and who is negative," the psychiatrist says. "We don't know their status and we cannot wait for them to be tested. They just need the treatment. We are the most vulnerable population."
​Weak foundationsReuters
​Weak foundations
The healthcare system was overburdened even before the pandemic struck. Dr. Sunil Kumar, the Bihar secretary of the Indian Medical Association – the main healthcare union in India – said more than half the doctors' posts in the state are unfilled. That's because many doctors don't want to serve in rural areas, according to Bihar's top court, which urged the state government to do more to fill the roles in a ruling in May.
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