Bihar’s AES, heatwave crises: Every inch is packed with bodies in Muzaffarpur’s SKMCH
Very visibly ill-prepared to tackle the acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) epidemic in Bihar — till Friday, there were 657 cases and 141 officially confirmed deaths — the state-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur is running out of space for both the young patients and their attendants.Updated: Jun 22, 2019, 08:52 IST
Very visibly ill-prepared to tackle the acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) epidemic in Bihar — till Friday, there were 657 cases and 141 officially confirmed deaths — the state-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur is running out of space for both the young patients and their attendants.
Most of the AES-afflicted children are being treated here, with some more being treated at the Kejriwal maternity clinic (KMC), and the conditions are chaotic. The ailing children who could not be given a bed — even a bed shared with other ailing children — lie on the floor of the paediatric wards, the corridor, near the washrooms. If a child is brought to the hospital at night, the patient and the family members have to wait for hours as even floor space is now scarce. This week, SKMCH turned a ward meant for prisoners brought in for treatment into a paediatric intensive care unit (PICU), but still the arrangements are not enough for the waves of cases coming in.
To minimise child deaths, NGOs and government health teams in Muzaffarpur are urging people to get their wards treated as soon as the first AES symptoms appear. So, the rush continues at SKMCH.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar paid a visit to SKMCH on Tuesday to assess the situation, and to gauge the impact of his visit, HT went to the hospital around 1.30am on Friday.
An already overcrowded PICU was receiving a patient almost every hour and the four nurses working in the night shift had a harrowing time accommodating them, as every inch of space in the large room — on the beds, beneath the beds, on the passage, near the entrance, and in the corridor — was occupied by patients and their attendants, mostly parents or close relatives.
At least five to six individuals, including the minor patients and their attendants, occupied each bed, the guardians sleeping next to the ailing children. “I came here two hours back with my nine-month-old child, who is suffering from high fever and is unconscious, but we haven’t got a bed yet,” lamented Shatrughan Mahato, resident of Muzaffarpur’s Golai Phurkahan village, pointing at his wife squatting on the passage inside the paediatric ward with their ailing child, rubbing shoulders with several other women, each of them anxiously waiting for a call from the nurses offering them a bed.
Himanshu Kumar of Musahari block had a similar grievance. Seated on a mattress — he seemed to have pulled it out from one of the empty wards near the paediatric ward’s entrance — along with his wife and one-and-a-half-year old son, suffering from AES symptoms, he rued, “I have been requesting the sisters (nurses) for a bed for the last three hours but to no avail.”
A nurse, surrounded by at least a dozen men and women demanding various things like bed sheets and cotton wool, said, “You can see the space is limited here and the patients are continuously flowing in. Each patient is accompanied by no less than two-three members of the family and they all want to stay inside the ward with the patient. Our requests fail to convince them to move out and we cannot turn back any patient.” Another nurse quipped, “Yahaan to mela laga hua hai (It’s no less than a fair here).”
The patients’ attendants defended their presence, stating that one had to get several things from outside the hospital, including medicines, so they had to stay there. “You need to be around to supply the requirements from the market,” said Nawal Kishore, an attendant.
With the maximum temperature in Muzaffarpur hovering around 40 degree Celsius and humidity at 74%, one could imagine the condition inside the hall occupied by people several times more than its capacity. There were no air-conditioners. Initially, there were only fans, many of them dysfunctional. However, after media intervention, coolers have been installed but they give little respite in the high humidity.
A posse of policemen and policewomen has been deployed at the entrance to prevent media personnel from getting inside the wards for the past four days. Officers on duty said that they had been strictly instructed not to allow any journalist in.
“After the outbreak of this mysterious disease, scores of media persons are thronging the hospital, and their presence is adding to the inconvenience of both doctors and patients,” said sub-inspector Rajesh Ranjan. Another officer, who requested not to be named, said, “We haven’t slept for the past three days, being busy just preventing the entry of journalists.”
Muzaffarpur district magistrate Alok Kumar Ghosh said, “Clear instructions have been given to health workers in the blocks to take all ailing children, including suspected AES cases, to the local five-bedded PHCs (primary health centres) first, as they all are now well-equipped to offer primary health care. Only the serious cases should be taken to SKMCH.”
Ghosh said that in the past three days, health workers had screened at least 200 cases at the PHCs, out of which three were tested positive. They were sent to SKMCH for advanced treatment.