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As India recovers from the deadly second wave of COVID-19, doctors and other health workers are bracing for a third wave. State governments, too, are putting mechanisms in place to make sure there is no shortage of medical supplies.
However, modern infrastructure and necessary medical staffers are still not visible at the Community Healthcare Centre (CHC) in Rajpur, a rural area in Sirmaur, Himachal Pradesh. This is the only hospital for more than 25 villages in the district, which have a population of approximately 40,000. The infrastructure of the CHC is on the verge of collapse. I visited the hospital on 22 June to see it for myself.
Recently, a report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) revealed that rural districts accounted for 52 percent of all COVID deaths and 53 percent of all new cases registered in India in May. The report further stated that community health centres in rural India need 76 percent more doctors, 56 percent more radiographers, and 35 percent more lab technicians.
The Rajpur CHC corroborates this data. This facility still doesn't have nurses and ward boys who can attend to patients. The centre has two-three doctors in the block headquarters for all villages. The X-ray department is closed as there is no technician and no basic equipment. The dressing room can give anyone sleepless nights and the female ward has been turned into an observation room for COVID-19 vaccinated people.
The only ambulance, which was allocated to this hospital, has been taken away and deployed at Civil Hospital Paonta Sahib, a nearby city, due to the ongoing pandemic. This forces rural patients from this area to travel longer distances for specialized or emergency care.
"“My home is almost 15 km away from Rajpur medical centre, the only one we have nearby. If case of emergency, a patient is taken to Paonta Sahib that is 30 km from my village. If not Paonta Sahib, we have to cross the border to take the patient to Dehradun.”" - LocalLack of Support From Govt
A doctor, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, said that the whole building was on the verge of collapse and needed to be renovated as soon as possible.
"“There is a meeting of Rogi Kalyan Samiti (RKL) slated supposed to be held in the upcoming weeks. We will present the demands for necessary equipment before the higher authorities. However, demands put forth at such meetings have not been met in the past.”" -
This ill-equipped hospital has been designated as a COVID-19 vaccination centre and many people are showing up to take the jab. However, the hospital authorities have failed to ensure social distancing because there is no staff to control crowds.
More so, the hospital can only perform Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), which itself has accuracy problems reported in the past. A medical officer in charge, along with a lab technician, performs the RAT. Hardly 8-10 people come here to get tested.
"“Imagine when third wave reaches here, how shall we treat patients? We do not have proper equipment. This situation needs to improve. Higher authorities are neglecting this issue. Even the local MLA has not visited this hospital in the last few years.”" - Hospital Staffer
Another local mentioned that patients are forced to go to PGI Chandigarh, which is very far from Sirmaur. “Forget about proper treatment. Even the building is in bad shape and people are afraid to enter,” he added.
When I called the block medical officer to enquire about the renovation of the hospital, he said that doctors had reported the physical condition of the hospital several times to the authorities before, but in vain.
Renovation would take about Rs 30 lakh but funds have not been sanctioned yet by the government, but minor upgrades were made on an individual basis, he said. Dental and general OPD are functional, even though machines are old. But the X-ray room is currently closed because of lack of operators.
When asked about preparedness for the pandemic, he said,
"“It is a decade-old hospital, and hasn’t been renovated since and it does need renovation. COVID-testing was done actively during the second wave and two oxygen concentrators are available for use. In serious cases, the patient was referred to the Civil Hospital in Paonta Sahib. Medicines like Remdesivir are not available but we have basic antibiotics.”"
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