Coronavirus outbreak: Situation worsening in Vasai-Virar, Palghar

Updated: Apr 04, 2020, 07:11 IST | Diwakar Sharma, Faizan Khan | Mumbai

A week after health workers raised the red flag, they say authorities have not woken up - test results are taking a week, hospitals are encroached, and workers have no protective gear - leading to fears of a silent spread

A primary health care centre in Vasai
A primary health care centre in Vasai

Lack of basic facilities at primary healthcare centres (PHCs) and inadequate testing kits are creating panic among doctors and medical workers in Palghar district's Vasai-Virar belt. They believe that the alarmingly poor rate of COVID-19 testing in the area might eventually turn out to be a disaster for them as positive cases are seeing a surge even as the authorities turn a blind eye to the situation.

The doctors, working at PHCs in the Vasai-Virar taluka without any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suits, told mid-day that the specimens collected from suspected COVID-19 patients were sent to Mumbai-based Kasturba Hospital, which was already burdened with a lot of work related to the health crisis. They said that the private labs did not have adequate testing kits.

Requesting anonymity, a senior medical officer of a zilla parishad in Palghar said, "It takes approximately a week's time to get a swab report. A team from a private lab comes to collect the samples of a suspected patient only if they have available testing kits. Earlier they used to come immediately on being called but now they take at least four days to collect the swab."

Ambulances at the PHCs in Vasai-Virar taluka have been gathering dust for years
Ambulances at the PHCs in Vasai-Virar taluka have been gathering dust for years

"Once the specimen is collected, the private lab takes another four days to give us the report. So, overall it takes more than a week for the whole process and this time can be really crucial for a suspected patient," he added.

Delay in reports

Another doctor said, "The delay in delivery of reports amidst the severe lacunae in health infrastructure in Palghar district will be disastrous and beyond the control of the limited medical workers who have not been given PPE suits to be worn while transporting suspected patients to isolation centres in the Vasai-Virar taluka."

Last week, mid-day visited the five PHCs – Vasai, Nalasopara, Bhatane, Mandovi and Agashi – in the Vasai-Virar taluka and found that ambulances kept on the premises have been gathering dust for years. They are dysfunctional at a time when patients need to be transported to isolation centres. "Such poor facilities at PHCs are paving the way for fast proliferation of private hospitals in Vasai taluka where a large number of people have migrated from Mumbai in the last few years," said another doctor.

One PHC, one SUV

Some of the doctors at the PHCs told mid-day that they have been asking for ambulances since years but the state government doesn't pay any heed to their requests.

The PHCs in the Vasai-Virar belt are facing a tough time due to the lack of protective gear and ambulances in the wake of the massive health crisis
The PHCs in the Vasai-Virar belt are facing a tough time due to the lack of protective gear and ambulances in the wake of the massive health crisis

Requesting anonymity, a doctor said that after mid-day highlighted how the health workers were using their own vehicles to meet those under home quarantine, district collector, Kailash Shinde gave one SUV to each of the five PHCs.

"The government asked us to use the SUVs as ambulances. What a joke! This means that a symptomatic person has to be ferried in the same vehicle to get him/her tested. Why will healthy medical workers travel with the suspected patients in the same car? Do they realise the gravity of the situation?" asked a doctor.

Another medical professional said, "Even though the collector has provided us with vehicles, due to the acute shortage of PPE we may get infected as we have to travel in the same vehicle with the symptomatic people."

Not sanitised

Highlighting the issue further, a cleaning staff said, "The vehicles used for transporting symptomatic people need to be properly sanitised but there is inadequate material to disinfect them. This may pose serious threat of further spread of Coronavirus."

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Speaking to mid-day, district health officer, Dr. Dayanand Suryavanshi confirmed that reports from Kasturba were getting delayed. "Kasturba Hospital is already over-burdened with a lot of testing. It is the reason why they are taking so much time in sending reports. On Thursday, 45 samples were sent to Kasturba, but I can't say anything on how much time they will take in sending the reports."

However, when contacted, Deputy Health Officer at Kasturba Hospital, Daksha Shah, said, "There is immense workload as we have got nearly 10,000 patients in OPD since the Coronavirus outbreak. We also have been getting a lot of cases from the districts as they lack the facilities. These districts should get in touch with the state government as specimens are also being tested at other hospitals, including KEM and JJ Hospital, since the past couple of days."

"Though we cannot refuse to test if specimens are sent to us, it is better if the workload gets divided. Then we can streamline our efforts to fight the current health crisis. There is no shortage of testing kits," added Shah.

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