Bihar sets up 10 teams to check testing data in all 38 districts

Acknowledging the irregularities, state Healh Department Principal Secretary Pratyaya Amrit said that "offenders cannot undermine the efforts of those who risked their everything for countering the onslaught of the Corona virus infection".

The Bihar Health Department Saturday announced the setting up of 10 teams to randomly verify Covid testing data from across all the state’s 38 districts in the wake of The Indian Express investigation that found glaring gaps in testing records.

Probes began in 26 districts and show-cause notices have been sent to medical officers in charge of Primary Health Centres in Araria, Forbesganj and the Purnaiah PHC of Sheohar.

As part of its investigation, The Indian Express visited six PHCs in Jamui, Sheikhpura and Patna, and accessed their testing records for January 16, 18 and 25. It tracked down 885 entries at these PHCs, and spoke to several staffers to find that basic data protocol was bypassed in a scramble to meet the daily target — from fudged mobile numbers to fake names and dodgy entries.

Records from Jamui and Sheikhpura show how in several cases, the mobile numbers provided for those tested were owned by unrelated people from other districts or even states. In some cases, multiple unrelated persons were listed under one number. In a few cases, the numbers used were those of the PHC staffers themselves. This would make it more challenging to do contact-tracing if the cases are positive.

Acknowledging these irregularities, state Healh Department Principal Secretary Pratyaya Amrit said: “Phone numbers were found wrong in Barhat and Sikandara. Irregularities were found too. Departmental enquiry has been initiated against those held accountable. State health department will ensure those found guilty will be brought to book… There were irregularities in Barhat and Sikandara PHCs of Jamui”.

“We have completed random probe in 26 districts and found multiple zeroes in several phone numbers in Araria and Forbesgang (in Araria district) and in the Purnaiah PHC of Sheohar,” said Amrit. “Even though physical probe showed that tests were actually conducted, we issued show-cause notices to these medical officers for improper data preparation.”

He underlined that “offenders cannot undermine the efforts of those who risked their everything for countering the onslaught of the Corona virus infection”.

The Indian Express investigation found that of the 885 testing entries tabulated, only 230 confirmed getting tested. About 325 entries had either 10 zeroes for mobile numbers or the contact columns were left blank.

Nine officials, including the Jamui Civil Surgeon, District Programme Officer, District Immunisation Officer have been suspended.

“At many places, numbers of ANMs and lab technicians were found mentioned against valid patients,” said Amrit. He added that physical verification showed there were many cases where names didn’t match the numbers but the subjects were tested.

Though no formal order has been issued to ask for any valid identity document for those being tested for Covid, most officials on the ground told The Indian Express that they have begun insisting on identity proof.

Said an official in Begusarai: “We cannot risk anything under the pressure of meeting the testing target. We are asking for some documents, writing down their full addresses so that even if there is no phone number, we can still trace the persons”.

While the state is still testing about 20,000 RT-PCR samples per day, districts have been told not to “rush to meet target”. Some districts, including Sheikhpura and Saran have done away with daily Antigen testing target.

Covid testing figure in Bihar is down from 75,000 a week ago to just over 65,000 on February 12. Bihar was among the states hardest-hit by the pandemic with the return of over 20 lakh migrant workers as infections peaked in the middle of last year. The state has so far recorded 2,61,568 positive cases, with 700 active cases, and over 1,500 deaths linked to Covid.

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