Covid-19 scare drives OPD patients away in Kerala

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Once filled with patients requiring treatment for various diseases, public and private hospitals around the world have witnessed a dramatic and drastic drop in people visiting their outpatient departments (OPDs) since India's first patient was reported by the state on January 30.

On normal days, according to official figures, on average more than 4 lakh patients visited various state medical centers in the previous fiscal year. Today, the numbers are down to just 10 percent from the previous tread.

Currently, more than 1.40 lakh people are under observation in Kerala, with 357 coronavirus patients.

Kerala's health system comprises district hospitals in each of the 14 districts and grassroots health institutions, plus eight medical colleges and budding private health centers.

A health professional attached to the state's main medical university hospital in the state capital said that compared to around 5,000 patients on normal days, only 200 people visited OPDs today.

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Understandably, since this hospital is one of the centers for treating Covid-19 patients and suspected cases. Therefore, neither would like to take the risk, said the professional, who did not want to be identified.

At a leading private hospital in the state's central district, the scene is no different.

Today, we have just 15-20 percent of OPD patients compared to normal days. But one difference is that we are receiving numerous calls from state hospitals to see if we can accommodate patients if they are transferred here. At our hospital, the strength of medical professionals is lower, said a medical professional on condition of anonymity.

Numerous medical scanning centers and medical laboratories today also give a desolate appearance, although they used to be overcrowded otherwise.

Its precarious situation is due to the fact that its staff has been intimidated by cuts in salaries of 50 percent due to the low participation of patients, which circulated on social networks.

Although the Kerala government warned of tough action against private health institutions that cut wages or ask staff to resign, it has not happened on the ground. Members of a private hospital staff here have approached the Department of Labor with a complaint that management has asked them to resign.

So, as Kerala authorities struggle with the spread of the coronavirus, private healthcare personnel are looking to an uncertain future, at least in the near future.