Health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra has been asserting almost every day that the state is prepared to deal with cases of bird flu in humans. Every day, his department is issuing a statement that lists, among other things, steps taken by the district and the referral hospital.
Item No 3 on one such official release says: “Till date, 20 ventilators have already been installed at those facilities (isolation wards in district hospitals); three are being installed. Ten pulse oxymeters are in the process of being installed.”
The extensive “process of installation” seemed to have stripped the referral hospital of all essentials, The Indian Express discovered on Friday.
No ventilator was to be seen — unless the minister meant the plain old windows. The sophisticated bedside equipment with monitors with the same name, each costing upwards of Rs 4 lakh, sent by the Union government on January 15, were conspicuous by their absence.
Still, the principal, Prof M Ghosh, reiterated that the hospital has set up two wards and a respiratory care unit and arranged for enough ventilators and pulse-oxymeters.
“With all this equipment we are ready to receive up to 160 patients with respiratory problems and treat them properly. If any patient is found infected with the avian influenza virus, he will immediately be shifted to the respiratory care unit. But so far we have not received any such patient,” he said.
Ghosh said two 60-bed isolation wards have been set up on the ground floor of one block. The respiratory care unit is at another block.
“We have already installed three ventilators and two pulse-oxymeters. We made the arrangements immediately after getting the order from Swastha Bhavan,” he said.
It was Ghosh’s comments that sent The Indian Express team hotfooting to check out the wards and capture the scene on camera.
The medical superintendent and vice-principal, Prof CK Jana, had been more adept at handing out information, when IE met him before visiting the wards.
“We have kept the necessary equipment like pulse-oxymeters at the respiratory care unit. When required, we will install them,” Jana said.
He said the hospital had only one ventilator. Two more arrived some three weeks ago. But the said respiratory care unit was sealed off completely. Jana said: “When I said all arrangements are made, you should believe me. As you are not a technical man, there is no point in allowing you to visit the units.”
Unfortunately, ventilators are also supposed to be installed in the male and female respiratory disease wards, where a suspected case of bird flu is to be housed first. In case the disease is confirmed, then they are to be shifted.
Dr Sanchita Bakshi, director of West Bengal’s Health Services, said: “They have informed me that all arrangements have been made and 20 beds have been kept for the avian influenza virus infected patients.”
The vice-president, had however, told The Indian Express that only 3 beds had been placed in the special ward.