Seven months after taking admission in an MD course at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Dr Shreya (name changed) got infected with tuberculosis, lost 9-kg weight and had to go on month-long break to recover.
This is not an isolated case as non-availability of healthy diet, long working hours and poor working conditions is taking a toll on health of resident doctors at the city’s tertiary care institute.
At present, there are around 1,300 resident doctors working at the PGI. Out of which, 2 to 3% (around 40) are suffering or have suffered from TB recently, as per an expert from PGI.
In the last two years, at least six resident doctors working at the Advanced Paediatrics Centre (APC) got infected with tuberculosis.
Situation worst at emergencies
The situation is similar across other centers of the institute, but is worst for those working in various emergencies, which is visited by around 500 patients every day, many of whom might have active TB. As the TB bacteria can spread from droplets of sneeze or cough of a person with the active respiratory disease, those coming in contact with them are at high risk of infection.
In the medicine department, three senior residents and 5-6 junior residents are suffering from tuberculosis and are undergoing treatment at the moment. They are suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, spinal TB, cardiac TB, TB of knee, intestinal TB.
Letter already sent to PGI admin
On November 31, resident doctors had marked a letter to the PGI administration as well in this regard. “We even informed you (PGI administration) about many of our resident doctors who have acquired tuberculosis in the past due to non-availability of healthy diet. Good nutrition will provide us immunity from such occupational hazards,” reads the letter.
The letter further mentions, “This issue has already been brought to the notice of our additional medical superintendent Dr AK Bhalla, despite which no efforts have been made by the contractor to date to improve the quality of food.”
HT correspondent spoke to seven to eight resident doctors who are either suffering or have suffered from tuberculosis after joining the institute. The reason given by all of them was low immunity, which is an after effect of “non-availability” of healthy food canteens (except upper cafeteria which is run by the association of resident doctors) at the institute.
“I was working in the emergency ward of the APC, when I got the infection. At neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), our duty is of 24 hours and at emergency wards, the duty stretches to 36 hours. Healthy meal is not available at the APC and I could not get much time to go out of the centre to have food,” said Dr Shreya. “With time, my health deteriorated and I got infection,” she added. She had to take a month-long leave and undergo six-month-long treatment to recover. “Though the healthy food is still not available, but now my mother stays with me and takes care of my health,” the resident doctor added.
Dr Rohit (name changed), who has just recovered from intestinal tuberculosis said, “While working at emergency, I used to skip my meal regularly and ended up getting infected. The duties are so hectic that we do not get time to go out and have our meal.”
Another resident doctor said, “I had to take five-month-long leave to recover and had to skip my final exams.” He demanded, “Healthy and hygienic food should be available round the clock for resident doctors who work for 36 hours at a stretch. We work among infected patients in emergencies. These infections get hold of us. We need protein rich food to build our immunity against diseases.”
“Why can’t the institute provide healthy diet to residents who are putting in so much effort for the institute? Three to four students from my batch have left the institute as they could not find nutritious food. It is government’s loss,” said another senior resident.
“In healthy people, infection often causes no symptoms, since the person’s immune system acts as a wall against the bacteria. But there is a greater risk of infection turning into disease among people with weakened immune system,” said former nodal officer, National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, Dr Anil Garg. “Long back, a study was also conducted at the PGI, which showed that doctors who work for long hours without having breakfast are more prone to developing TB,” he added.
PGI spokesperson was not available for comment despite repeated attempts.