Arif Bashir

COVID19:  The battle is between intelligent virus and stupid host!

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None of the infectious diseases, that have stalked humanity for thousands of years, have ever killed as many human beings as have been consumed by sheer stupidity.

With the COVID19 global cases crossing 29.5 million and 933 thousand fatalities by mid September 2020 – the pandemic seems to have found a dream host in human beings, spreading rapidly and building an ecosystem of its own.

Despite the fact that the global community of scientists, researchers, pharma companies and health professionals is forming more and more collaborations and exerting more collective efforts in order to manage the situation and finally arrive at a vaccine that could end this nightmare for humanity, the virus remains unstoppable one for the lack of vaccine and more so for our own wrongdoings, criminal leniency and lack of proper administrative as well as managerial plans.

WHO and health ministries of various countries are frequently engaging in updating, on a daily basis, comprehensive databases regarding the established symptoms and also new and emerging ones besides issuing renewed safety guidelines to be followed for safety.

However, ironic as it may appear, people’s attitude towards the virus is generally lenient, dangerous and fatal – not just for their own selves but for others as well.

In the same way, the very clearly evident administrative lacunae too add to the already miserable situation. The urgency of the situation seems to have been exploited for wrong reasons. Just because the pandemic was very sudden and spreading rapidly does not give anyone a free hand when it comes to managing the scenario within the given resources. The comfort of the ‘no questions asked’ zone should not be used for covering up the administrative failures responsible for all the troubles and inconveniences that patients of this virus have to face in different Covid centers.

Here, I must make clear that I do not intend to disrespect or belittle the tremendous efforts being made by the health workers including doctors, paramedics, volunteers etc. but the real intention is to highlight what all is going wrong and where!

As far as my personal experience of attending a Covid patient (at Indoor Sports Stadium, Baramulla, designated as Covid centre under the aegis of GMC, Baramulla) goes – I am petrified to share the entire scenario as it involves several such facets of our conduct (the medics and the attendants) that are miserable and can prove very risky for us as well as people around us.

Since we belong to such a rare part of the world which has traditionally been obsessed with  acquiring warfare machines while being criminally indifferent about sectors including health – one can easily understand why, in response to Covid pandemic, our administration designated various private hotels as well as indoor stadiums as Covid care hospitals.

It is ok to do so when you don’t have any options at hand but would it not have been wise to atleast use the space in the best possible manner? For instance, in this Covid care facility, huge halls have been converted into wards and portable life saving machinery has been kept readily available. But there is not even a single ward with proper ventilation!!  Also, a simple ply or aluminum partition could have ensured some decent distance between the patients and also the attendants.

Isn’t it a fact that cleanliness is a must for patients who are fighting a disease that has no vaccine yet and that needs to be defeated by staying strong and maintaining hygiene? Where is cleanliness in our COVID care centers? Not atleast in the one where I was!

Looking at the overall health care facilities dedicated to COVID19 in Kashmir – one is shocked to see the mismanagement and misplaced priorities of authorities vested with the responsibilities of ensuring proper healthcare ambience for the patients and also for those who might be attending them! A cursory look at the ground situation would make it clear that these centre’s might be spreading the virus far too much compared to the number of patients who are treated there.

With all due respect to the health workers, paramedic staff, technicians, volunteers, doctors and the government, we are failing our people in the most desperate of the times. What more can illustrate this better than the scenario in one such COVID Center where 24 patients with 24 attendants have just 4 bathrooms to use! There is no separate hand washing facility for the attendants and the Center sees a team of doctor coming in the morning and one in the evening! Most of the oxygen concentrators are gathering dust (even those which are in use aren’t kept clean). Is this the universal protocol for COVID care?

Although the risk of contacting the virus while attending a Covid patient is extremely high for all – be it doctors, paramedics etc – but it is much more worse in the absence of proper protective gear. What I saw at the said facility was totally shocking – Patients being attended by their relatives, who do not have proper protective gear and yet are being allowed to enter the ward, at will. There are no guidelines for the attendants, no one to brief them about the sensitivity of the issue, no one to guide them through and no one to regulate the flow of people in a ward full of COVID patients. Is this the universal COVID protocol? I ask once again!

The fact that the hospitals are receiving increased inflow of COVID patients and the lack of support staff, cannot justify what is happening on the ground.

It is extremely disappointing to notice that the administrative leniency at such centres is going to give COVID – a highly contiguous viral illness – a field day!

From this Covid care centers, six COVID positive patients, four among them on oxygen support, are sent to the nearby district hospital for CT scan and guess what – no one from the Covid medical team accompanies them! Beyond the capacity of an ambulance, the patients are pushed in the ambulance along with four attendants (probably COVID negative till that time) and dropped at the main entrance of the district hospital – an overcrowded entrance to the hospital!

Now the patients as well as attendants are left to look for the CT scan center which is finally located after a full round of causality and after asking nearly a dozen people for the address! Is this the COVID19 protocol? I ask one more time!!

A lady from one of the border villages was rushed and admitted in Covid care hospital (16th September) after she had complained of breathlessness (probably in the district hospital). Poor she – had not even been tested for Covid! Doesn’t this demonstrate the administrative failure a little further? Now, when she came in the Covid ward – occupied a bed for a few hours and was accompanied by three attendants – who will be responsible if she or any of her attendants tests positive tomorrow? She, however, was shifted to a side room sometime in the night and left the hospital in the morning!!

There are many other issues that need attention of those managing the Covid situation here and if such things aren’t checked in time, the hospitals will be the next hotspots of COVID19.

The food supplied to the Covid positive patients is yet another story. Both the food and the presentation are pathetic. Disposable food containers are of cheap and sub-standard quality. Patients are given two cups of muddy coloured hot but water as tea during the day, which the attendants have to collect. A bit of rice, with a small piece of chicken in lunch and dinner, which is thrown on their beds, as if they are not lying in a Covid facility but on a pavement somewhere begging.

True that the virus has caught us unawares and is challenging all the success stories and scientific progress as we stand shell shocked in the face of this new pandemic – we must, however admit that it (COVID19) aptly draws a clear picture before us showing how vulnerable we remain even when we have suffered the onslaughts of new viruses, some severe and some mild than COVID, and diseases for such a long time. The problem is that we refuse to draw lessons – we refuse to acknowledge the imbalance that we choreograph and have laid foundations for in the most brazen and bizarre fashion. We refuse to show any sort of self restrain when it comes to the acts and actions that are terribly detrimental to the health of the entire planet!

What is presumably more, or atleast equally, important to the research and development of the vaccine, is ensuring respectable and equitable adherence to COVID-19 health guidelines and a structured response by the authorities – medical, governmental, nongovernmental. Unfortunately all this is lacking – atleast in this part of the world where COVID care hospitals look like a plan in haste and lack all the very basic facilities of hygiene. This goes without saying that, alongside, advertising new norms and standards to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, a well planned and brilliantly structured medical care for those affected by the virus is a must!

Isn’t it true that the scientists and medical science experts had already predicted a new pandemic even before the first COVID case was reported? Isn’t it also true that the same communities also maintain that there could be millions of viruses in the world waiting for humans to provide them the right ecosystem to strike a blow?  If that is the case – what is our preparation? Do we have to always dig the well when we feel the thirst?

We must come up with an approach which is based on the health guidelines and is innovative in nature. All the past experience of pandemics should guide us towards proper management and planning in order to tackle the situation. A timely and comprehensive response in collaboration with key stakeholders is a necessity and, apart from proper surveillance, monitoring of the Covid facilities, capacity-building of frontline health workers, proper information and communication process should be in place.

It is unfortunate that people are acting very naively and stupidly ignoring the ever growing number of fatalities and positive cases of COVID. This way we can’t hope for any improvement in the situation which will subsequently go worse!! Equally unfortunate is the administrative failure! One is amazed to see how poorly COVID Centers are being managed.

We all must remember that it is a very long battle and what makes the scenario more frightening is that the virus is too intelligent and the host (people) has been playing too stupid. One can easily predict the winner unless the virus decides to leave us alone and our efforts to create the vaccine reach fruition, we may continue loosing precious lives.  Also, all the parameters of our health sector, all the unplanned and hasty managerial loopholes, hollow and shrill claims of the government, unprecedented public leniency, lack of proper conduct and hospital manners, it is very difficult to comprehend how quickly or how late the COVID war is won. But we must be sure that in every new mortality and in every new case, we are already loosing!!

This is how hygienic the surroundings of the Covid centre are. Photos/Arif Bashir


From L to R: A sophisticated machine is gathering dust and accommodating used syringes and bottles whileas USG machine is lying in a corridor and being used as a stand for mattress and a walking stick. Photos/Arif Bashir


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