Data available with the Ghuntu PHC, which caters to five neighbouring villages too, show 37 Covid cases in March, 97 in April, and 13 till May 10.
“The disease came like a storm,” says Kalabai Chauhan, the sarpanch of Ghuntu village near Morbi town, the tile hub of India. Between April and March, cases tripled, the cremation ground ran out of firewood, the village’s Primary Health Centre struggled to procure enough rapid antigen test (RAT) kits to give a diagnosis, and in and around, the hospitals quickly filled up.
Among those who died running around for tests and a bed was Naran Chauhan alias Gulab, a 36-year-old civil contractor of Ghuntu. He got fever in the first week of April, along with his wife Aruna and their nephew. The family lined up for a test at the PHC, but it ran out of RAT kits. Eventually, a hospital in Morbi did a CT scan, and a doctor told them it indicated Covid-19, gave them medicines, and advised home quarantine.
When Gulab’s oxygen levels dipped, Aruna tried for a bed, unsuccessfully, at Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, Gujarat’s largest hospital where their niece works, the 170-bed government-run General Hospital, Morbi, and three private Covid hospitals in the district with 210 beds. By the time Gulab made it to a private hospital in Rajkot, 60 km away, on April 9, he had to be put on a ventilator. On April 14, within two hours of being brought to Guru Gobind Singh Government (GG) Hospital in Jamnagar, Gulab’s mother, who had meanwhile tested positive, passed away. Four days later, so did Gulab.
“Neither knew about the other’s condition. God tried us by fire,” says Aruna, the mother of three children, the youngest 3. The family spent around Rs 7 lakh on Gulab’s treatment.
Since the last week of March, says former sarpanch Devji Parecha, Ghuntu, a village of 12,000, has seen 110 deaths — against its usual average of three a month. Parecha says the deaths started around March 25, with the village a draw for many migrant workers working in ceramic factories. “Pyres have kept burning since and we have had to purchase two truck-loads of firewood. The government didn’t have any answers. Our PHC would get 15 testing kits daily, while 60 at least would be waiting for tests,” says Parecha, adding that they finally imposed a lockdown on own, now in force for 40 days.
Sarpanch Chauhan says he and his wife Amar also tested positive. “Thankfully, my wife got an oxygen bed at a Covid centre set up by a ceramic factory in Bharatnagar, 15 km away,” he says.
Data available with the Ghuntu PHC, which caters to five neighbouring villages too, show 37 Covid cases in March, 97 in April, and 13 till May 10. “But the actual caseload is easily 1,700-1,800 in Ghuntu alone,” says Dr Piyush Patel, a local homeopath doctor. “From the last week of March till April 17, I would get around 300 patients daily, almost 10 times normal.”
As of Tuesday, the official case count for Morbi district was 6,076, with 84 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic last year. Around 800 cases have been registered since May 2. The district is among the worst-hit in Saurashtra.
Till early April, the 100-bed General Hospital was the only government facility in Morbi treating Covid patients. The total number of ventilators (government and private) were 30.
A health officer of the district, who doesn’t want to be named, admits they were not prepared for the surge. “An average 150 people would queue up outside the Ghuntu PHC, but only 25-odd tests were conducted every day in April. No one had anticipated the graph would rise so sharply… We had some breathing space only after the Morbi Ceramics Association donated RAT kits.”
Morbi District Collector J B Patel, however, denies any shortage in testing kits. According to him, “The thrust, as per the directive of the government, was on RT-PCR tests, therefore PHCs were getting less antigen kits. However, it is true that doctors in remote areas relied on blood tests.”
Patel adds that while till April 13, RT-PCR samples of Morbi would go to Rajkot, now there is a lab at the district’s General Hospital. “We tested 2,800-3,000 samples every day at the peak. The situation is now under control. Daily infections have been falling for the last one week.”
Now, besides the General Hospital and sub-district hospitals in Halvad and Wankaner talukas, Morbi has 30 PHCs and five urban health centres (with 30 beds) exclusively for Covid and SARI (severe acute respiratory infections), besides a Covid centre at a government school in Jodhpar village with 100 beds. As of Wednesday, 745 of the 1,975 beds in the Covid treatment facilities were occupied — including 467 of the 868 oxygen beds and all 45 of the ventilator beds — Dr Chetan Varevadiya, Chief District Health Officer of Morbi, said.
At Ghamshyampur village in Halvad taluka, among the worst-hit in Morbi, Saroj Makwana, 29, and eight months pregnant, developed fever on April 9. Her husband Devji, a schoolteacher, first took her to a gynaecologist in Halvad town, who prescribed some medicines. Three days later, her oxygen levels dipped. “A private hospital in Morbi said as Saroj was pregnant, CT scan wasn’t advisable and told me to take her to Jamnagar.” Saroj finally got an RAT Covid report on April 13 and was put on oxygen support at GG Hospital. On April 20, just after she was put on ventilator, she went into labour. Both she and the child died, says Devji.
Ghanshyampur sarpanch Rugnth Tarbundiya says 25 people have died of Covid in the village of 3,000-odd people since March 25. “Some died as they could not find a bed, others couldn’t afford a hospital,” says Tarbundiya, who spent Rs 1.5 lakh at a private hospital in Halvad where he was kept on oxygen support for a week.
Dr K M Rana, who runs a maternity home but has been treating people with Covid symptoms in Halvad taluka, says with testing kits scarce, they depend mostly on blood tests. “We recommend CT scan only to those who can afford it.” The closest imaging centre is at Dhrangadhra, 45 km from Morbi, and a scan costs Rs 2,000.
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