Mohalla clinics short of hands as staffers test Covid-19 positive
Around 20 mohalla clinics in the national capital are functioning only intermittently owing to a short age of hands -- staff have either tested positive for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) or are unwilling to work at the clinics when the cases are surging -- officials of the health department said.
In November, when Delhi battled a severe rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths, about four to five staffers of mohalla clinics had tested positive for Covid-19. The numbers are the same at any given time, officials said.
Health experts said last month, when intensive care units in hospitals were filled to capacity with Covid-19 patients, these clinics had turned out to be a major boon in delivering health services.
According to health officials, there are around 15 to 20 clinics — the official did not specify where these clinics are located — that have not been functioning for the past couple of months. A few of the doctors and nurses at these clinics had contracted Covid-19, while the other staffers are unwilling to join back duty given the surge in cases. Each clinic has three to four staff members — a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist and a helper and treats about 100-200 patients a day.
The doctors and staff at the mohalla clinics are paid on a per patient basis. Each mohalla clinic sees about 100 to 120 patients a day.
“We have a running list of doctors who have already been selected for postings at mohalla clinics and are reaching out to them to join the clinics where there are staffing issues,” said a senior official from Delhi’s health department, on condition of anonymity.
Two mohalla clinic doctors – a husband and wife -- were a part of the first cluster of cases reported from Delhi in March. A 38-year-old woman from Dilshad Garden had visited one of the doctors when she experienced symptoms after returning from Dubai. She had passed on the infection to her mother, two daughters, brother, and a friend.
Another 65-year-old doctor from mohalla clinic in Najafgarh had contracted the infection and died in June
The officials are also looking at conducting fresh interviews to expand the list. Currently, there are over 465 such clinics in Delhi, with the government planning to expand the numbers to 1,000 -- one clinic in every 1km radius. During the lockdown, only about 360 of these clinics were functional. More clinics were opened up and operationalized as the restrictions were removed.
“Having mohalla clinics at a time like this is beneficial as they ensure that people at least get primary care, which hospitals are currently unable to provide given the influx of patients. In many hospitals, routine clinics have been stopped or curtailed and mohalla clinics can help take on that load. Also, people are wary of bigger hospitals as there is a higher chance of contracting the disease from these big facilities,” said Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the department of community medicine at Safdarjung hospital.
The Delhi government has also removed the restriction of doctors or other staff members over the age of 60 years from working in clinics. “Initially, we had asked senior doctors to not work in mohalla clinics as there was a risk of exposure to patients who might have Covid-19. However, with the pandemic persisting for so long, many senior doctors are insisting on getting back to work,” the official said.
“We cannot stop them from reporting to duty as there is already a community spread and people are contracting the infection even without stepping out of homes. But all mohalla clinic staff have been asked to ensure social distancing and to wear masks during duty hours to protect themselves against the infection,” the official said. The government is also planning to induct the senior doctors in their online consultation app, as per the official.