Faulty tests, poor contact tracing: COVID-19 fight in Kashmir faces myriad stumbling blocks
Officials who have been testing the coronavirus samples of patients in different hospitals said in Kashmir that the staff was not fully trained to test the patients.
The COVID-19 positive cases in Kashmir have remained significantly unreported as the hospitals in Srinagar refuse to admit patients while the health workers have not been able to test the contacts of positive cases as per norms.
The authorities have admitted that the testing was not adequate and the health care resources were strained as the officials have lagged in creating the required bed strength to deal with the increase in the number of reported positive cases. A number of doctors said that even the elderly symptomatic people who are positive for the disease are being quarantined at home and hospitalisation of the COVID-19 positive cases was getting delayed.
“The positive cases are not being shifted to COVID care centres or COVID hospitals in time,” read the documents of the recent meeting undertaken by the authorities to review the COVID-19 management in Kashmir. The was even though authorities have asked the health officials to ensure the timely shifting of COVID-19 positive cases to hospitals or public buildings that have been turned into COVID care centres.
Adding to the difficulties of people, the security staff at several hospitals in Srinagar was refusing to admit the symptomatic patients. The response of the authorities to the crises has remained shoddy with people earlier complaining of getting contaminated food at the quarantine centres before the authorities in the Valley switched over to home isolation.
Last month in a meeting, which was headed by the Kashmir divisional commissioner, a strong note was taken of the fact that the level of testing was inadequate across the Kashmir region. As per a government document, officers were directed that the target for contact tracing of the positive patients “should be 8 to 10 persons”, but they have been only testing a maximum of 4 people. In some cases, only 1 person was tested.
“All the district contact teams shall act more proactively and trace at least 8 contacts of each positive person,” noted the direction issued by the divisional authorities to the deputy commissioners (DCs) and chief medical officers (CMOs) of the Valley.
The authorities in Kashmir have been reporting the number of positive COVID-19 cases on a daily basis between 500-600. The cases have now climbed to nearly 42,000 while the number of deaths reported so far was 770 across the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory (UT).
The number of positive cases is seen to be significantly lower as the rapid antigen and RT-PCR COVID tests are coming negative in a large number of cases even as the other medical investigations like the CT scan contradict with test findings.
Officials who have been testing the coronavirus samples of patients in different hospitals said that the staff was not fully trained to test the patients. According to them since the cases were not being fully reported, there was also a discrepancy in the data that was being maintained at the different levels in the government in the Valley.
“The sampling of the COVID cases was not being done properly. The staff was not fully trained. An overwhelming number of patients are turning negative for the infections and due to faulty test kits in many cases, the test reports are showing errors,” said a health official in a sub-district hospital in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
A number of health officials said that they are admitting the patients for coronavirus treatment in the hospitals despite their negative COVID-19 results.
“We are admitting the patients on the basis of CT scan tests even if the COVID-19 test results come negative,” said Medical Superintendent of the Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial (JLNM) hospital, Srinagar, Rouf Ahmad Bhat.
The list of patients who are discharged from hospitals was also not being updated in the mobile application that was created for better COVID-19 management in Kashmir, officials said.
Director Health Service Kashmir, Samir Matoo admitted that there was a delay in updating the manual list of the cases onto the online platforms.
Several health officials in Kashmir, however, said that they have speeded up the sampling of the contacts of COVID-19 cases in the Valley.
“We are testing the patients in adequate numbers. We are carrying out both the rapid antigen and RT-PCR tests of the symptomatic patients,” said chief medical officer, Anantnag, Mukhar Ahmad Shah.
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