COMMENT: Confusion, mess hit anti-coronavirus battle in Hyderabad

Updated April 05, 2020

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Such is utter confusion on the part of district administration and health authorities that even the Sindh chief minister is sometime provided wrong information. —  Photo courtesy Umair Ali/File
Such is utter confusion on the part of district administration and health authorities that even the Sindh chief minister is sometime provided wrong information. — Photo courtesy Umair Ali/File

HYDERABAD: Given enormity of the deepening crisis, handling of situation arising out of coronavirus spread in Hyderabad has been unprofessional and could be a recipe for disaster. This was evident from the fact that until Saturday, positive patients, despite being confirmed cases, had been staying with suspected patients at different locations including Rajputana Hospital, Noor Masjid and Labour Colony flats.

Such is utter confusion on the part of district administration and health authorities that even the Sindh chief minister is sometime provided wrong information. In a video conference on Friday evening he was told that 19 coronavirus-positive patients (Tableeghi Jamaat members) had “gone missing” in Jamshoro. Later, it transpired it was a miscalculation of figures and the patients are present in Hyderabad.

“Sindh CM Syed Murad Ali Shah was angry when he was told that 19 patients had gone missing when they were sent to Liaquat University Hospital’s laboratory in Jamshoro for their tests,” said a source present in Friday’s conference. CM’s concern, said another source, was quite genuine as Jamshoro is his home district and such a lapse could not be ignored.

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho interjected to tell Sharjeel Inam Memon, Sindh government’s focal person for Hyderabad, that there was no testing facility for coronavirus either at Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS), Jamshoro, or at Syed Abdullah Shah Institute of Medical Sciences (SASIMS), Sehwan, so how could people go missing there,” said a participant quoting Dr Pechuho. Expressing his disgust, a source said, the CM termed it a “criminal act” and called for registration of an FIR against the responsible person, be it a senior university officer. Then Jamshoro administration also briefed the CM about the figures.

It caused embarrassment to the focal person and Hyderabad DC. Later, LUMHS Vice Chancellor Dr Bikha Ram and other university officials were called to the DC’s office where figures were reconciled.

LUMHS officials told the DC they were sharing lab reports with other officials which was their primary job. Hyderabad SSP also helped reconcile figures, revealing actual break-up of positive and negative cases to avoid miscalculation.

“I can’t say anything about this episode [sharing of wrong information with CM] on Friday as I had to leave after having been called by commissioner,” said DC Ayesha Abro.

In fact all positive patients were present in Hyderabad but “they were mixed up with those in scattered quarantine spaces”. Due to lacking of coordination among officials, actual figures could not be ascertained in last few days as to how many are quarantined and how many are in isolation when Sindh health department had claimed a spike in Hyderabad’s cases, putting the number at 128, in all, on March 31.

Hyderabad’s largest isolation centre is Kohsar Hospital, Latifabad, after Liaquat University Hospital city branch. Rest are quarantine facilities including Rajputana Hospital and Labour Colony flats. But in the last few days, these spaces had been used for housing positive patients surprisingly and now administration intends to shift them to isolation centres.

The DC told this writer on Saturday that a total of 155 cases had been reported in Hyderabad, including those from other areas, ever since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic was felt. And of them, 86 were in Kohsar Hospital, 22 in Isra Hospital, five in Combined Military Hospital (CMH), seven in home isolation and 13 in other districts. “WHO’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) are changing and we are accordingly taking our decisions,” she said.

She added that if need be, administration would use premises of Hyderabad Club and Sindh Sports Board’s hostel rooms to establish isolation wards but for now they were not being opted for as Kohsar Hospital was found to be the best available option.

When she was told that no one was kept in Isra, she insisted they some people had been shifted there. Isra hospital official Dr Sajjad Kazi, who is dealing with administration about coronavirus situation, informed Dawn on Saturday that not a single patient — suspected or confirmed — was admitted to the hospital till 8pm on Saturday.

“I was told by Dr Asad Khatri from the district health office that 15-20 patients are being shifted to our hospital but none was brought here. I told him that we are not supposed to keep positive patients and later the doctor said that the plan to keep positive patients here has been changed. So right now we don’t have any positive or suspected patient,” said Dr Kazi.

A philanthropist who is part of food supply for Tableeghi Jamaat people in Rajputana’s quarantine facility, said that in fact four positive patients from Noor Masjid and two positive from Labour Colony flats were shifted to Kohsar Hospital only on Saturday otherwise they were kept in quarantine space. “Those in Rajputana Hospital are mostly foreigners and we are catering to the needs of 70 people. Suspected patients there are said to be 55”, he said.

According to Dawn’s calculation, a total number of 151 people from Hyderabad — for one or the other reason — were tested positive until April 2. Of them two have died (one each resident of Hyderabad and Tando Mohammad Khan); a woman has recovered, three have left for Karachi after tests, one is admitted in a Karachi hospital and his son is in home quarantine. Confusion is still there.

Bulk sampling of 200-plus visiting Tableeghi Jamaat people was done at Noor Masjid on March 29 and 93 of them were found to be positive on March 30 as per laboratory results of LUMHS (30 tests) and Civil Hospital Karachi (63 tests). These are in addition to those who were already admitted in LUH’s isolation ward.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2020