Health workers in Karnali Provincial Hospital at high infection riskA senior doctor of Karnali Provincial Hospital died due to Covid-19 related complications on Thursday.
On Thursday, a senior doctor at the Karnali Provincial Hospital died of coronavirus in course of treatment in Nepalgunj-based Bheri Hospital. According to Dr Dambar Khadka, the director at the provincial hospital, Dr Hari Prasad Sapkota passed away on Thursday afternoon.
“We sent him to Nepalgunj a few days ago as the risk of coronavirus infection was high here in Surkhet,” said Khadka, adding that the 59-year-old was also suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure. “It is very difficult to protect health workers and other staff from Covid-19 since the hospitals are facing a shortage of medical staff,” he said.
Around one-fourth of the health workers at the provincial hospital have been infected with the virus so far. According to Khadka, a total of 205 medical staff including 55 doctors and 150 other health workers are currently working at the hospital. “Twenty doctors and 32 other health workers at the hospital have been infected with Covid-19 so far,” said Khadka.
The rate of infection among the frontline health workers is alarming in several districts of Karnali Province. According to the health officials, limited human resources in the health sector and lack of protective medical equipment are two major reasons behind the increasing positive cases among the health workers.
A 200-bed Covid-19 Special Hospital was established inside the premises of the Karnali Provincial Hospital in Surkhet in May. The doctors and health workers deployed for the treatment of Covid-19 patients are also put on duty at the understaffed provincial hospital.
Seven doctors deployed at the Covid-19 hospital have tested positive for the virus so far, said Khadka.
A total of 33 health workers, including four doctors, have tested positive for the coronavirus at Karnali Institute of Health Sciences in Jumla as well. Bishwaraj Kafle, the registrar at the institute, said the frontline health workers got infected despite a high level of preventive measures.
The provincial government has set up three Covid-19 hospitals—one each in Karnali Provincial Hospital, Karnali Institute of Health Sciences and Chaurjahari Community Hospital in Rukum (West). The provincial hospital sees the most number of Covid-19 patients since it is located in the provincial headquarters.
According to Madan Kumar Lamichhane, an employee at the provincial hospital, a total of 558 coronavirus infected patients have been admitted at the hospital since mid-May.
“The number of Covid-19 patients coming to the hospital is higher compared to other Covid-19 special hospitals. Around 500 Covid-19 patients have returned home after treatment while 66 are currently undergoing treatment,” he said. “The sheer volume of patients and limited staff is proving to be fatal not just for patients but also for health workers.”
Due to a lack of employees, health workers working in Covid-19 special hospitals also have to work at the other departments of the hospital.
There are 11 permanent doctors and 44 doctors, both including those appointed on contract basis and scholarship quotas in the provincial hospital. They are supported by 150 other health workers.
Khadka, the director at the provincial hospital, said: “Covid-19 hospital needs at least 24 trained health workers to function smoothly. But we have been compelled to deploy the same health workers in other wards and departments. This is why health workers are being infected here. We cannot manage the Covid-19 hospital separately due to staff shortage.”
Health workers, who have been deployed at Covid-19 hospital, are working a 12-hour shift daily for seven days before they are replaced by a next set of workers for the next week.
To avoid the spread of the virus among their family members, the hospital management has managed a hotel for their accommodation.
“After a week-long duty is over, the concerned health workers have to stay in hotel quarantine for two weeks before they are allowed to visit their homes,” said Khadka.
There are four regular ICU beds in the provincial hospital. The same health workers working in the ICU Unit also manage the ICU of Covid-19 hospital.
“There are 15 ICU beds in the Covid-19 hospital and two ventilators. But we do not have adequate staff to operate the ICU and ventilators,” said Khadka.
Dr Nawaraj KC, the focal person of Covid-19 hospital in Karnali Provincial Hospital in Surkhet, said: “The hospital is filled to its capacity with Covid-19 patients now. Since there are not enough health staff, the doctors themselves are providing meals to the patients. It is very difficult to provide treatment and to make other necessary arrangements. At this rate, every health worker will be infected.”
The provincial hospital had to close its Emergency and OPD services twice after the health workers got exposed to the coronavirus in the last few months.
Khadka said, “The regular services of the hospital had to be closed to protect health workers and service seekers. But with limited resources, it is difficult to protect health workers from getting infected.”