As pandemic response system gets overloaded amid spiralling cases putting pressure on limited resources, government shifts focus to improving COVID Care Centres to bridge gap

At 10.26 a.m. on April 30, a Twitter handle posted screenshots of a person named Shiva Prasad requesting help to get a bed for his friend’s mother whose situation was critical following COVID infection.

As per the tweet, person’s father died early morning and his mother was battling for life. The help of the State’s Health Department (@ArogyaAndhra on Twitter) was sought in finding a bed for treatment.

The Health Department’s account, which was also the Official COVID-19 Response Handle, responded by 2.25 p.m. saying “Concerned team has been informed for necessary help” only to receive a response that the woman has passed away.

While the department has been responding in no time to most of such requests, several are still being ignored or noticed late causing the needy to run from pillar to post for getting treatment to their near and dear ones.

The same is the case with the 104 service which has of late been receiving a huge number of calls. On April 30, over 15,000 calls were received by the control room which engaged the services of over 2,612 doctors for telemedicine, according to officials.

Sheik Siraj, a resident of Bharati Nagar in the city, approached 104 and sought directions for testing. “I got calls from a doctor who asked about the symptoms and then I was asked to visit a PHC in Patamata for the test. The test was scheduled for only 10 persons and I gave the sample and returned in no time. The process was smooth and I appeal to everyone to dial 104 for any help,” he says. However, his test result, which was positive, came after four days.

The department has put in place proper systems at the State and district levels for COVID management, including monitoring hospitals, supply of medicines, oxygen and testing. However, the unabated rise in infections and the increasing number of patients seeking treatment at hospitals has overwhelmed the personnel and institutions managing COVID response. Most of the government hospitals are full and private hospitals, even if they have beds, remain unaffordable for many patients.

Several requests seeking a bed continue to pour in on social media platforms even as the government dashboard of bed availability shows thousands of vacant beds. As of Friday, there were 38,160 beds in 544 hospitals and over 16,946 were available at the time of writing.

Hospitalisations go up

“Since the beginning of the second wave most of the COVID-infected persons were admitted to hospitals. Last year not many were seeking an admission into COVID hospitals as most of them were taken care of at COVID Care Centres (CCCs). Now the situation is different and only 10-15% of patients are at CCCs,” Principal Secretary, Health, Medical and Family Welfare, Anil Kumar Singhal said at a recent press conference referring to the shortage of beds.

He said the focus on CCCs was now being increased and the facilities were being improved. If non-critical patients could be directed to CCCs the stress on COVID hospitals will come down, he said.

As of Friday, there were 7,700 patients at CCCs and the number could go up to 15,000 in four days.

Oxygen demand

Mr. Singhal said that the State was using about 430 tonnes of oxygen per day against 470 allocated by the Centre. “The demand will increase further and we have appealed to the Centre to provide 550 tonnes per day,” he said.

The Central government has permitted the use of Liquid Nitrogen Gas tankers for transporting liquid oxygen and two tankers have been allocated for the State.

Meanwhile, the government has enhanced the treatment rates to reduce overcharging by hospitals. The government fixed separate rates for NABH accredited and non-NABH hospitals.

Though non-critical treatment rates were not enhanced much, one has to shell about ₹5,000 more for treatment in an ICU with a ventilator.

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