Karnataka Contemplating Field Hospitals As Covid-19 Surge Expected By July: Minister For Health B Sriramulu
Karnataka’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare, B Sriramulu, speaks with Swarajya on the state’s battle strategies against the coronavirus pandemic.
The entire country has been lauding the measures undertaken by Karnataka to keep the pandemic at bay to the extent possible. From accurately reporting details of India’s first Covid-19 fatality, to having a setup to handle the surge owing to returnees from states like Maharashtra, the state has been hands-on in its dealing with the crisis.
When we reached out to Minister for Health and Family Welfare B Sriramulu, when the first fatality was reported from Kalaburgi, he had assured that the efforts of the state "are on a war footing and we will do whatever it takes to deal with this pandemic".
From then to now, when the state has crossed the 7,000 mark in terms of Covid-19 cases, the minister has been touring the state regularly and visiting all the district hospitals.
We spoke to him again as he returned from his tour of coastal districts. Here are excerpts from the interview:
1. Given that you have been on a tour of the state, what is your assessment of the condition of various district hospitals?
Ever since we witnessed the first case, we have been relentlessly working on ‘ground zero’. I have so far visited 30 districts personally to monitor things. Our team of doctors at these districts is doing a great job.
Asha workers and our ground staff who are frontline warriors are at work round the clock. Our hospitals are prepared for any situation and emergency that we foresee with a rise in the number of cases. Our infrastructure and dedicated manpower are our strengths that make our fight against coronavirus stronger and better everyday.
2. In Udupi, the numbers have seen a massive jump after people from Mumbai started arriving. What would be the protocol for those coming from Maharashtra?
We have adopted an effective formula from day one. The 3Ts formula — trace, test and treat. We have intensified these in Udupi.
Migration and relaxation in lockdown norms are no doubt the reasons behind the spike in the number of cases as there have been movements from one state to another. However, with intense measures, we have been trying to prevent any super spread event in Udupi.
To check any spread, we had made 14-day quarantine mandatory to those travelling from other states. Initially, we had faced similar challenges at Nanjangud and were effective in tackling it.
As on Sunday, we had a thousand plus cases reported from Udupi, but no deaths have been reported. Similarly, we had cases from Mysore, Chamarajnagar, Kodagu and Koppal, but no deaths were reported. We have been fighting hard leaving no stone unturned in this battle against coronavirus to ensure we win.
3. Since you said only home quarantine and not even an apartment quarantine will be followed, what about possible asymptomatic carriers of the virus?
Rigorous testing and aggressive contact tracing is the way out and that is what we are doing. As we see asymptomatic carriers to be of grave concern pointed out by various studies, we have decided to go for more testing.
Contact tracing is another task. So, we will be going in for more tests as per the WHO standards and that's the first step in tackling the pandemic and the same will be done to check asymptomatic carriers.
Our contact tracing exercise has yielded results. ICMR researchers' study on contact tracing, between 22 January and 30 April, showed that Karnataka is on top with 93 being checked on an average compared to the national figure of 20.
This, while states like Maharashtra and Delhi, which are worst-hit, on an average tested only eight and nine contacts respectively. Rigorous testing and contact tracing will help us check asymptomatic cases and that is one reason mortality rate in Karnataka is about 1.2 per cent.
4. What is the situation as far as institutional quarantine is concerned? As there have been enough complaints about pregnant women experiencing difficulties and some tragedies also taking place owing to inconvenience at the institutional quarantine centres?
We have been witnessing that institutional quarantines have been fruitful in our fight against coronavirus. This has also helped in keeping the number of Covid-19 cases under control in Karnataka.
Priority is being given to pregnant women, ladies, children and senior citizens, whichever facility it is — be it Covid care centre, dedicated Covid health centre or dedicated Covid hospitals or any quarantine facilities.
However, issues on inadequate facilities or poor infrastructure at quarantine facilities are being addressed as and when they come to our notice. Besides, all these quarantine facilities are being monitored by our team of doctors and nodal officers. And they are people friendly.
5. Exorbitant charges by certain private hospitals have been reported. Any measures to keep that in check? Has the government fixed charges for treatment in private hospitals?
I have had meetings with all private hospital managements. We have asked them to cap prices. Any inconvenience to people seeking treatment will be dealt with seriously.
Currently, most cases are being treated at government hospitals including Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI) and Bowring Hospital besides our district hospitals.
However, we are seriously thinking on these lines and state government will take a decision in this regard on capping prices for Covid-19 treatment at private hospitals.
6. As far as tribal pockets of the state are concerned, what are the measures taken to ensure the pandemic doesn't affect those — since not many have access to medical facilities?
We have been sensitising people. In fact, what's heartening is their proactive measures.
We have heard of instances where people have been blocking entry and exit points of their villages. Meanwhile, testing is being carried out aggressively.
Our Asha workers are visiting door-to-door to conduct surveys and sensitise people on preventive measures. We are also starting mobile clinics that will go to their doorsteps and take samples for testing.
The more we test, the best we tackle the spread. So tribal and rural pockets have been covered under our drive. Covid care centres, dedicated Covid health centres and dedicated Covid hospitals are being created evenly across the state.
7. What about opening up medical and hospital facilities for non-emergency procedures? Any protocol for such facilities?
Initially, we had instances of hospitals closing operations for medical and hospital facilities for non-emergency cases. Some private hospitals had closed as they feared consequences on reportage of Covid-19 cases. However, after a meeting with the private hospital managements, most of them have started functioning.
The protocol to be followed is to intimate suspected Covid-19 cases to state government nodal officers and function as per the guidelines being issued by the Centre to function. We have made it clear that any inconvenience in medical services to people won't be tolerated.
8. How is the state preparing for a possible spike in cases during the monsoon? As other health issues like seasonal fever, malaria and other diseases during a pandemic can be an added burden?
We expect the numbers to go up by July. Necessary steps are being taken to face the situation. We are contemplating opening field hospitals across the state if the cases go up significantly.
This will help us in two ways.
Firstly, it decreases the load on hospitals treating Covid patients as ones with mild symptoms are treated here.
Secondly, field hospitals prevent the spread as asymptomatic or ones with mild symptoms can result in more spread if they visit regular hospitals, where patients of other medical requirements too visit.
Further it will help us tackle the Covid cases effectively.
“We are tackling the issue with an effective Covid management with three steps — Covid care centres, dedicated Covid health centres and dedicated Covid hospitals and I'm sure the rise in the number of cases will be checked with this method besides other measures strictly being implemented as per the directives from the Centre,” he said.
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