AIIMS Battles COVID Spread Among Staff, Surge in Cases Over Past Two Days

Over 195 members of the staff and workers have tested positive. While two have died so far, staff associations say that poor quality masks and PPE kits are responsible for the number of cases.

New Delhi: With 50 more healthcare workers and other staff at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi testing positive for COVID-19 over the past two days, the total number of cases at the premier research institute has gone up to 195.

Some office-bearers of the Resident Doctors Association have blamed the poor quality of mask and personal protective kits (PPEs) for the spread of the novel coronavirus therein.

Two deaths at AIIMS showed gravity of situation

Apart from a number of its staff getting infected by the coronavirus, AIIMS has also witnessed the death of two of its staff members due to dreaded virus.

The first fatality at the institute was reported last week when a man who worked at the hostel mess of the Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences died of coronavirus on May 21 night. Though the hospital authorities said this worker had some cardiac issues and did not work in the patient area, tests revealed that he was COVID-19 positive.

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Immediately, the RDA wrote to AIIMS director and sought action against the hostel superintendent and the senior warden for their alleged “failure” to initiate protective measures.

The RDA general secretary Srinivas Rajkumar T. went on record to state that over a month ago that the Association had demanded regular screening with thermal scanner and availability of masks, sanitisers, etc, in the mess, but no action had been taken.

Son of deceased staff member alleges negligence

AIIMS was then rocked by another death – this time of its senior sanitation supervisor, Heera Lal. An affable person, who interacted closely with cleaners, ward-boys and disinfection staff, and was rarely absent from work, he first showed symptoms in mid May.

His son, Prahlad, accused the AIIMS authorities of a lackadaisical approach in dealing with his father’s condition and of providing sub-standard N95 masks to the staff. He told the media: “My father got the infection on May 15 and passed away on May 24, within nine days. He was still on duty when he first developed uneasiness and illness. Routine checks were done at AIIMS on the morning of May 15. COVID-19 test was not done and the doctors on duty suggested that my father should return for a COVID-19 test after he develops symptoms. By the time visible symptoms developed around May 19, my father was already in need of a ventilator.”

The general secretary of AIIMS New Delhi SC, ST Association Kuldip Singh, too corroborated his claims He said a blood test was first performed on Lal, and then he was told to go home and rest. Singh also alleged that Lal was not provided with “protective gear” though he was dealing with all kinds of infection sources.

AIIMS claimed it was providing proper protective gear

The AIIMS authorities later issued a statement denying this charge as “totally baseless and incorrect”. The institute claimed that it was providing all necessary gear such as personal protection equipment and N95 masks to all its healthcare workers.

The institute also claimed that, “Heera Lal was provided timely care and admitted immediately when he reported to the Emergency Department on 19th May 2020 … he presented with acute exacerbation of symptoms and was on ventilator support in ICU. Unfortunately, he succumbed, despite best of efforts by the treating team.”

However, the reply did not state why a COVID-19 test was not conducted on May 15, as that could have saved his life with prompt treatment.

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Incidentally, AIIMS medical superintendent D.K. Sharma had also gone on record to rule out any laxity in dealing with Heera Lal’s case. He also claimed that the institute had issued hydroxychloroquine to all its “COVID warriors” much ahead of the Indian Council of Medical Research calling for such a move through its revised guidelines.

New cases reignite quality issue

Meanwhile, the issue of poor quality equipment being provided to the staff has resurfaced following the detection of new cases among staff members.

With the coronavirus infection having spread to three resident doctors, eight nurses, five mess workers and one MBBS student, apart from laboratory staff, technicians, sanitation staff and security guards over the past couple of days, it is again being alleged that the authorities have not taken proper and adequate measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

‘Issues about quality of N95 masks, PPE kits not addressed’

RDA general secretary Rajkumar today alleged that the “apathy of the government  and the AIIMS administration” was responsible for this situation. He said it was since March that the Association has been “writing and fighting for improving safety of hostel premises, sanitation, provision of stay and proper quarantine protocol and adequate testing” but lamented that there has been no “satisfactory response”.

“Even issues about quality of N95 masks provided and other components of PPE, have not been addressed. The N95 masks provided in many regions of hospital doesn’t meet even MOHFW (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) safety standards, forget international standards,” he said.

Rajkumar also charged that protests are met with “threats of FIR from administration and attempts to jeopardise the career of RDA executives by administration.”

Both COVID, non-COVID sections affected

As per agency reports, the AIIMS authorities have in the meantime started contact tracing. A PTI report cited a source as saying that “healthcare workers and ancillary staff testing positive are both from COVID and non-COVID areas of the hospital. Employees from all kinds of departments like engineering, laboratories, offices, canteens, operation theatres and wards among others have contracted the infection.”

Overall, since February 1, a total of 195 healthcare personnel at AIIMS have tested positive. They include two faculty members, five resident doctors, 21 nursing staff, eight technicians, 32 sanitation workers and 68 security guards.