How Covid-19 became a boon for a battered Indian hospital

Indian authorities are trying to address the country’s chronic under-investment in health.

18 November 2021 | International

REUTERS

INDIA

At the height of the first Covid-19 wave in India last year, the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital (JLNMCH) in the eastern district of Bhagalpur exemplified the sorry state of healthcare in most of the countryside.

Wards and ICUs were so swamped with patients and relatives that armed escorts went with doctors on their rounds, in case violence erupted. Doctors said when a second wave pummelled India this year, the government hospital with some 800 beds and meant to serve millions of people, barely pulled through.

But thanks to the misery the pandemic brought, JLNMCH is getting a new lease of life as authorities try to address India's chronic under-investment in health, especially in Bhagalpur's home state of Bihar where healthcare infrastructure is among the worst in the country.

The hospital has now set up its own oxygen generators that will meet nearly all its demand, hired dozens of new nurses, nearly doubled its ICU capacity, and linked hundreds of beds to piped oxygen for the first time in years. Its pink, badly-peeling exterior also might get a fresh coat of paint, the hospital superintendent said.

Work on a swanky new 200-bed advanced-care hospital, which started a few years ago, accelerated this year and is likely to be finished by the first half of next year.

"Covid has been a boon for us," Asim Kumar Das, medical superintendent of JLNMCH, told Reuters in an interview at the hospital. "Although it destroyed mankind and brought huge suffering, it has given us so many changes in the infrastructure of the hospital."

Das said the hospital was in talks with the state government for 200 more beds in the main complex, along with additional human resources as there was an "acute shortage" of doctors and paramedics.

Health infrastructure is starting to get similar attention across many parts of India, government figures show.

FUNDS FLOW TO OXYGEN

Heavily criticised over record coronavirus infections and deaths in April and May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, along with states and government-run companies, have provided funds for hospitals so that all of India's nearly 750 districts have at least one oxygen-generation plant.

Some 4,000 of them have been commissioned in recent months, according to the federal government.

The government has also pledged to build many new hospitals and upgrade existing ones in the next few years with the investment of around $9 billion - part of a bigger plan to double the number of hospital beds to two per 1,000 people.

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