Bihar Starting To Prepare For Coronavirus Epidemic
Bihar: The state of Bihar has recorded more than 33,000 cases, most of which were added in July. But it has reported relatively few deaths from the virus - 217. That's a far lower death-toll than that of Andhra Pradesh (884), another state which is witnessing a sharp uptick in case numbers.
But that could change quickly, say doctors and experts, because the state did not do enough to shore up its crumbling health infrastructure in time.
More than 40% of the posts for healthcare workers are still vacant, says Dr Sunil Kumar, the secretary of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) in Bihar. This is despite repeated requests to the government, he adds.
"We knew Covid-19 will strike the state sooner than later, but we did not plan at the scale we had to," he says.
Most districts in Bihar also don't have enough ventilators, which have become crucial in treating emergency Covid-19 cases.
"There is an acute shortage of doctors who are experts in operating the ventilator - this is a very specific requirement - and the state should have thought about it," Dr Kumar says.
The state government denies lapses on its part, and has said it is building additional health infrastructure rapidly.
But Bihar faces unique challenges: For one, its primary healthcare network is weak and suffers from decades of neglect. Many states have used those networks to test and trace effectively, or create awareness about hand-washing and wearing masks.
It also has fewer top-rung government hospitals or private ones, which can accommodate and treat patients swiftly. While big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai have also seen deaths due to delayed admissions, experts fear that similar pressure in Bihar could lead to a far higher death toll.
To make matters worse, flooding has begun in several parts of the state, further stymying its response.
Dr Kumar says the rise in case numbers shows that the infection is spreading fast, and to remote corners of the state.
While Bihar has ramped up testing, its testing rates are still among the lowest in the country.