With the government’s focus firmly on containing the spread of coronavirus, people struggling with chronic illnesses are facing difficulties.

An image of KC General Hospital in Bengaluru with barricades blocking the entrance to the ward areaImages: Nimeshika Jayachandran
Coronavirus Coronavirus Sunday, May 03, 2020 - 18:46

It has been a scary week for 17-year-old Lakshmi from Bengaluru’s KR Puram locality. Her 45-year-old mother, Gautamma, was diagnosed with kidney failure five months ago and has been requiring regular dialysis. With the coronavirus pandemic consuming a significant amount of medical resources, the teenager has been scrambling to find a hospital that will admit her mother for dialysis.

“We went to a private hospital near our house, but they didn’t have facilities to do dialysis and asked us to go to Victoria Hospital. When we went to Victoria Hospital, doctors there told us that they only see coronavirus patients and asked us to go to CV Raman Nagar General Hospital,” says Lakshmi.

With CV Raman Nagar General Hospital converted into a COVID-19 centre on March 30, the family was then sent to KC General Hospital in Malleshwaram, where her mother was admitted on Thursday for dialysis.

Dialysis ward at CV Raman Nagar General Hospital, Bengaluru

Lakshmi isn’t alone in this ordeal. 58-year-old Vijayakumari’s family too has been struggling to find a hospital that will admit her. Vijayakumari had been diagnosed with diabetes a little over one year ago, following which she has required routine check-ups at the hospital. About two weeks ago, the family was told that she required surgery as soon as possible for a gangrenous toe, the result of a wound infection.

Outside the casualty at KC General Hospital, Bengaluru

“We visited two private hospitals which turned us away, saying that they are not doing elective surgeries. Now we have brought her to the emergency department, because we didn’t know what else to do,” states Vijayakumari’s brother Murthy.

The family resides in Chamrajpet and had brought her to KC General Hospital on Thursday where they were told that the surgery could be done, however, they would have to wait until a bed was available in the hospital.

“They’ve done the dressing for her wound and have asked us to either wait here and see if any bed is available, else they said we can take her home and bring her back tomorrow. She’s a diabetic with uncontrolled sugar levels and we don’t want to take her home and risk her health,” adds her sister-in-law.

Patients with chronic illnesses struggle

With the government’s focus firmly on containing the spread of coronavirus, people struggling with chronic illnesses are increasingly facing difficulties to find hospitals for treatment.

“Prior to the pandemic, we had 80 patients who were routinely coming to us for dialysis. Each person requires at least two to three dialysis cycles. At least 8 to 10 cycles of dialysis were being done on a daily basis,” states Dr Radhakrishnan R, the medical superintendent of CV Raman Nagar General Hospital in Bengaluru. Now, these 80 patients have been referred to other hospitals in Bengaluru.

Even patients grappling with non-COVID emergencies are struggling to find affordable healthcare and hospitals that are willing to admit them. “People who cannot afford corporate hospitals rely on government institutions for healthcare. But when the best government institutions like Victoria Hospital are turned into COVID-specific hospitals, it leaves other patients desperately looking for admissions and they are going from pillar to post hoping a hospital admits them,” says Dr Sanjiv Lewin, Chief of Medical Services at St John’s Hospital in Bengaluru.

Medical resources strained

KC General Hospital in Bengaluru is one of two government hospitals along with Jayanagar General Hospital that is still handling non-COVID emergencies in the city.

Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at KC General Hospital, Bengaluru

But KC General Hospital located in Malleshwaram is also a COVID-19 healthcare centre. “Our available resources are stretched because we are screening each patient for COVID-19 and even conducting tests for frontline health workers in our hospital,” Venkateshaiah, Medical Superintendent of KC General Hospital tells TNM.

Read: Pvt hospitals in Karnataka turn away SARI cases, strain govt and other facilities

Despite the lockdown, the hospital reported around 350 to 400 patients every day. While this number is reduced from the thousand patients per day seen before the lockdown, it is still a significantly high number during the lockdown period, according to Venkateshaiah. “We are constantly receiving referrals from private institutions that are refusing to admit patients who are showing coronavirus symptoms,” he says.

“If private hospitals take up non-COVID cases instead of referring them to government facilities, then it would help the government hospitals which are handling individuals suspected to have COVID-19 ,” adds Venkateshaiah.

Though scientists around the world are racing to find a vaccine, it has been estimated that one may not be ready for upto two years.

“Given the situation, we need to not only focus on the short-term goal of treating those with COVID-19, but also those with non-COVID chronic health issues,” states Dr Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

“We need to assess how severe the pandemic is going to get in terms of the number of individuals who might be affected and then accordingly ensure that there are enough medical personnel to manage the situation. That way, we can focus on making sure that there is no disturbance in the existing methods by which those with chronic health issues (non-COVID related) are receiving the required treatment,” he adds.

With several individuals requiring care for chronic illnesses, the government must come up with a plan to better tackle non-COVID conditions.


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