Hospitals under strain as Covid-19 peak approaches

Updated June 09, 2020

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Major hospitals across country are running short of capacity. — Dawn/File
Major hospitals across country are running short of capacity. — Dawn/File

KARACHI: As the feared peak of Covid-19 cases nears, major hospitals across the country are rapidly running short of capacity, official data shows.

In Sindh, according to the provincial health department, a total of 22 private and public hospitals are treating Covid-19 patients.

In these 22 hospitals, there were a total of 1,048 isolation beds, out of which 173 were occupied and 875 were vacant as of Monday (June 8).

Combined, there are a total of 486 beds in high dependency units (HDUs), of which 237 are occupied in Sindh. There are 240 ventilators at intensive care units (ICUs) of these hospitals for Covid-19 patients and 60 are occupied.

Major hospitals across country are running short of capacity

Karachi’s capacity running out

With over 31,000 cases in Karachi alone, private and public hospitals in the metropolis are fast running short of capacity.

The Sindh health department’s data shows there are no beds vacant in ICU units in Karachi, except for six beds in Dr Ziauddin Hospital North Nazimabad. Out of the total 389 HDU beds, 213 were occupied while 152 out of 181 isolation beds were full in the provincial capital.

Dr Qaiser Sajjad, general secretary of the Pakistan Medical Association (centre), said doctors had been warning about this difficult situation from day one.

“We don’t have a healthcare system that could take in a large number of patients at a given time,” he told Dawn.

According to him, currently major hospitals in Karachi, including Aga Khan University Hospital, Indus Hospital, Dow University of Health Sciences (Ojha campus), South City Hospital and Ziauddin University Hospital, had stopped admitting critical patients.

“These hospitals would prefer to offer a ventilator to a patient under treatment in their high dependency units rather than taking a new critical patient,” he said.

“Similar situation prevails in interior parts of Sindh. Currently, ventilators are available at hospitals, such as Lyari General Hospital, where most families wouldn’t like to take their patients for admission,” he added.

Pak Neghayban app

According to the Sindh health department, Civil Hospital Karachi, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Accident and Trauma Centre, Dow University Ojha Campus, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Lyari General Hospital, National Institute of Child Health (NICH), Indus Hospital, Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), Dr Ziauddin Hospital Clifton and North Nazimabad branches and Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) have been treating Covid-19 patients in Karachi.

According to the government’s Pak Neghayban app, ventilators are available in Lyari General Hospital only, while Civil Hospital, JPMC, SIUT and Aga Khan were running on limited capacity. The app showed there were no beds/ventilators available at Indus Hospital, NICH, and all branches of Dr Ziauddin Hospital.

The app also shows that other hospitals have no room for patients in the city. However, according to the Sindh health department only the aforementioned hospitals are treating Covid-19 patients.

“Also, it’s important to understand that it’s not just the ventilator a hospital should have to take care of a critical patient, including those suffering from Covid-19, technical expertise to run the equipment in an intensive care unit is extremely vital to save life. Otherwise, poorly trained staff can kill a patient. To have a ventilator without technical expertise is like having a car without a driver,” said Dr Sajjad.

About the availability of hospital beds, he said beds were available at isolation facilities but what had emerged as a challenge was to provide quality care to critical patients.

452 vents vacant in Punjab

In Punjab, according to the official figures, the provincial government has allocated 568 ventilators for Covid-19 critical patients in all the state-run hospitals.

Out of the 568 vents, 116 were occupied while 452 were vacant, as per the official statistics on June 6.

Similarly, there were 42,983 beds in these health facilities falling under two separate departments, including the specialised healthcare and medical education department (SH&MED) and the primary and secondary healthcare department (P&SHD).

The official documents say 7,544 of them were allocated in the isolation wards for the Covid-19 patients. Of these beds, 1,405 were occupied while rest 6139 were vacant, the figures showed.

Similarly, of the total beds allocated for Covid-19, 944 were designated in the high dependency units. Of them 381 were filled, while 537 were vacant.

More beds needed in KP

Chairman of the Provincial Doctors Association, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr Zubair Zahir, told Dawn: “We fear that the province is rapidly going towards a situation when there will be no space in hospitals to take Covid-19 patients.”

He said most of Peshawar’s hospitals had run out of beds and the government should focus on infected patients and make immediate arrangements for additional beds and ventilators to ensure their effective management of patients.

The hospitals, he added, were overflowing with patients and their relatives were running from one hospital to another to find beds, but there was none. The government must arrange beds along with ventilators to cope with the influx of serious patients of Covid-19, said Dr Zahir.

The association’s president said that the government should allocate one of the teaching hospitals in Peshawar for Covid-19 patients or establish a field hospital for the purpose.

Balochistan’s capacity

Meanwhile in Balochistan, 2,148 beds are available for Covid-19 patients.

In Sheikh Zayed Hospital, which is designated for coronavirus patients, there are 225 beds, while there are only 30 beds in the Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital and civil hospital and the Bolan Medical College Hospital has 50 beds available.

There a total 93 ventilators available in government and private hospitals in the province. Out of these ventilators, 82 are in the government hospitals and 11 in private hospitals of Quetta.

Faiza Ilyas and Ramsha Jahangir from Karachi, Asif Chaudhry from Lahore, Ashfaque Yousafzai from Peshawar and Saleem Shahid from Quetta contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2020