The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Battle for basics masks virus war
- Nodal centre hamstrung with equipment

It is the state’s first and final battlepost against the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). But does Beleghata’s Infectious Diseases (ID) Hospital have the medical tools described by doctors as “absolutely essential” to treat any serious respiratory disease' The answer, simply put, is no.

True, the front doors are barricaded and policemen block both the front and rear entrances. But that is where the “preparedness” in the war against the virus seems to begin and end at Beleghata.

The one change at the hospital between April 24 (when the state’s first SARS patient, Asitabha Purakayastha, left the campus for AMRI with a cardiac condition) and April 30, was the replacement of the CPM-affiliated Coordination Committee leaders by the men in uniform to keep the peace.

Doctors were left lamenting how their hospital had got policemen instead of essential instruments on a day when peace-keeping translated into trying to keep journalists out of ID Hospital. Here’s what doctors said was essential in the hastily-done-up ‘SARS unit’ of the state’s only hospital specifically earmarked for infectious diseases:


4Blood-gas analysers




4Trained personnel for installation of specialised equipment

But, except for the ventilators provided by the state government, ID Hospital continues to await the rest in its struggle against SARS, say officials.

“What is most surprising is that, save the special respirators (that have been promised to the state government by the New Delhi office of the director-general of health services), not a single word has been spoken about the other equipment which are as necessary,” one of them said.

The trouble begins with the basics, say ID Hospital nurses. Like the ‘real’ masks needed to keep out the virus. Wednesday witnessed an agitation by nurses demanding more masks for them to “go anywhere near” the SARS-affected. The day ended with plenty of promises, but officials admitted that things could get out of hand if the supplies did not come in immediately.

A pulse-oxymeter, explain doctors specialising in respiratory diseases, is essential for checking the pulse-rate simultaneously with the level of oxygen in blood. “We need this to check whether the level of oxygen has reached the point of saturation and how that is affecting the pulse-rate,” one of them said.

A blood-gas analyser is another equipment considered a must-have for any respiratory-diseases unit at any infectious-diseases hospital. It checks the blood pH, besides the percentage of atmospheric gases in the system, say doctors. “It is surprising that the government has not yet thought of equipping the state’s only infectious-diseases hospital with this,” a reputed specialist in this field said. The defibrilator is an instrument needed for cardiac conditions and is one that the ID Hospital does not have, say doctors.

“It is absolutely unimaginable for a nodal hospital to work without a ventilator,” a senior physician attached with another city-based undergraduate-teaching hospital said.

Not just equipment, doctors say the ID Hospital could also do with some trained personnel to operate these specialised instruments. “Many hospitals in the city sometimes get equipment, which then rot for the lack of manpower,” a Medical College and Hospital surgeon said. “ID’s case is no different,” he added.

A doctor once attached with the hospital, however, differed. “The ID Hospital’s case is quite different,” he insisted. “It does not even have the special catheter that makes it possible to give intra-venous drugs several times through one point,” he explained.

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