Gangtok: “We are ready to work on the field, be it the health secretary or the medical superintendent. From the day we took oath to serve humanity, we will keep working until our last breath,” said Sikkim health minister Dr Mani Kumar Sharma.
Sharma was addressing media persons after the discharge of two COVID-19 patients — the state’s first and second cases — from STNM Hospital in Gangtok on Saturday.
The occasion also marked the change in the batch of health workers working in the COVID section. While 43 health workers were sent for home quarantine, a new batch of 50 health workers were welcomed for services in the dedicated COVID section of the hospital.
Here are the edited excerpts of his conversation with media persons:
In some states, COVID 19 has spread in the Army. What kind of protocol is being followed by the defencce forces when they come to the state?
They fall under the purview of the Union home ministry. The Salugara Cantonment in North Bengal is their drop point from the rest of the country. They keep these Army personnel under quarantine and give passes only after that. Here in Libing, Shyari too, they have their dedicated hospital where they are taken care of, if there are any flu-like symptoms. There is no cause of worry, they are maintaining quarantine.
Is the medical team equipped enough to handle a spike in cases in the future?
Certainly. The preparation, alertness and the kind of work force we need is already structured at different levels of frontline, screening, quarantine. We have well-trained and experienced manpower in isolation. It is structured, we won’t have thousands of cases to deal with, that is now under control. There won’t be that much panic.
What do you have to say on the demarcation of zones being maintained among stranded people returning to the state?
All the returnees from Mumbai were segregated, they were put under separate, special quarantine. That is why it was easy for us to identify them, we did not mix them up. Everywhere is a red zone, we are in a red zone. There is no cause to distinguish, but for our own operational feasibility, we have segregated them in groups. When the first case came in Rabongla, we isolated the primary contacts and inmates in one quarantine facility, so that there was no spread. Eventually, the active cases also became negative. So kudos to our health workers.
What about the proposal of a separate section for COVID away from the main STNM Hospital building?
We have an infectious disease hospital in the premises, that is on the verge of completion. We will dedicate one or two floors for COVID-19 patients there. Patients can be shifted there, so that there is no mixing of patients and people in the main building, so that it can function smoothly. Currently, civil work being carried out.
What about the decision to make Central Referral Hospital, Manipal for all non-COVID referrals?
Now, with the spike in cases , there will be intermixing of the people at STNM. That will jeopardize our whole system; the whole idea of tracing, tracking and treatment will be defeated. It becomes possible only when there is no mixing of people. This decision is a temporary one from the government, even though the Memorandum of Understanding is only for two months, but before the expiry of two months, we will be able to open our infectious disease hospital, which will serve our purpose.
The available resource nearest to us is Manipal Hospital, they are serving our people only.
Manipal has to abide and is doing that. They are happy, it’s not forceful, they willingly came up and talked about it, we are here to contribute.
Dr Suresh Rasaily (medicine) and Dr Ruth Yonzon (paediatrics) are taking over the 50 positive cases in isolation from Saturday. What do you have to say about that?
They are one of the most experienced doctors, and we can always expect better results from them. It’s a question of dedication with no casualty, whatever is possible from our experience, resources with that we are prepared, we are doing it phase-wise, our numbers are not that high. If it was thousands, it would have been some cause of worry.
In case, there is manpower shortage, would you come to the hospital and work, as you are a doctor?
I am a medical professional who has taken an oath and it’s like a battle in many countries, where civilians go. If required, I will go.
We are ready to come on the field, be it the health secretary or the medical superintendent, we are all ready. From the day we took the oath to serve humanity, we will work until our last breath. It’s in our thought process everyday, we are engrossed in the same, it’s in our blood and we will never forget. We are ready for the same.
But we are hopeful it doesn’t have to come to that, as we have structured and planned the process from screening to quarantine facility, isolation, treatment, to diagnosis, the duty and work force has been prepared. But if such a scenario does develop, we are ready to don a PPE suit and come to the hospital to fight COVID-19. We will be happy to work.
What about the COVID-19 test backlog from North Bengal Medical College & Hospital?
Our samples were refused, it had piled to such an extent that they could not cope up. There was so much pressure, they refused, we had to take it back.
Our staff at labs are working very hard, they are not worried about shifts. In the middle of the night, they are updating me about whatever is happening in the lab. So that is the kind of dedication they are working. It’s our moral responsibility. These are our ultimate warriors. The result is two happy faces went back home.
Our alertness was from the beginning and the result is here today. Kudos to our health workers, as the first two patients have been cured and being sent for home quarantine.
It indirectly proves that we are capable, and ready to fight any kind of situation. Our State has made an achievement, it has showcased our preparedness.
What about the stranded people being brought back to the state and the rise in positive cases?
We welcomed them back with system, facility quarantine, it was a regulated effort. Despite positive cases, we have been able to identify them from point to point. Wherein they are isolated, hospitalized, it’s an example of exemplary preparedness.
We are prepared and alert, the virus is regulated with no community spread, all the positive cases are from quarantine centres. When they are identified and isolated, there is no fear of transmission.
True social distance norms must be maintained for the next one year. We have the treatment facility, but common people must face the reality and learn to live with COVID 19. We must not be casual, there is casualness in crowded part of towns, children and elderly are co-morbid to the virus. They have multiple concerns, they must stay home and stay safe. It is a compulsion for them.
On Friday, Sikkim saw 50 new COVID-19 cases in a day. What protocol changes is the state government bring in?
It’s a simple guideline, we are working as per protocol. The entry of stranded people from here on will also remain in the same guidelines. There won’t be any change, they are not allowed to mingle with society.
There are many interested to come to the State who work in private companies and factories, they have approached the State task force. But until now we have kept the same as stagnant. Our crisis needs of positive cases needs to be resolved, when cases start becoming negative, then with strict guidelines the company must facilitate their quarantine centres or take up the State’s proposed paid quarantine. Health care workers will carry out strict surveillance from here on.
STNM stands with 200 beds for COVID 19, but there are other isolation wards. In 36 cases yesterday, West Sikkim had 13 cases, they were kept in isolation in Geyzing. In South Sikkim, Namchi District Hospital has the space for isolation ward and we will keep the patients there if there is rise in number of cases.
There may not be so many cases from here on, Mumbai returnees have been tested mostly, and the same result that we have as positive now, is from Mumbai returnees. There won’t be an increase in positive cases from the Maharashtra group. They will be kept under observation and in a phase wise manner they will be treated.
Asymptomatic patient does not need oxygen, nor does it need a ventilator, they only need to be kept under observation. If there is any issue in district hospitals, the patients will be brought to STNM Hospital.
We have batches of health workers at our disposal, one left for quarantine and the other went for service today. So in a phase wise manner we will carry out. People of Sikkim need to trust on our endeavours.
What about the possibility of state facing shortage of health workers?
The state has enough healthcare manpower, they can be pooled in for STNM from different PHCs, and PHSCs. Volunteers will be for awareness to the civil society, becuase the hospital needs prepared and trained people who can handle the situation.
At a society level, all volunteers are welcomed. There is a kind of panic and phobia, these cured patients will go back to their home and villages. so there is a chance of social stigmatization, which needs to be looked into. The assurance must come that they are cured, they are now normal people like us. They are not going to spread anymore virus and they can go back to their family members, there is need for propagation that society takes and accepts back the COViD positive patients.