No PPE kits, sanitisers for PHC staff

Staff at some primary health centres said salaries had not been disbursed for two months

When Shravan Subbaiah (name changed) went to a primary health centre (PHC) near J.P. Nagar to get an RT-PCR test done, he was shocked to see that not a single healthcare worker there was wearing a PPE (personal protective equipment) kit. Equally worrying was the lack of social distancing at the clinic.

“Those who had reported to the centre to get tested were standing close to each other, and were huddled around a healthcare worker, who was noting down their details. It is no surprise then that the city’s case load is seeing an increase,” he said.

With the surge in the number of positive cases, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has increased the target for testing in the city. By Monday, the civic body hopes to increase the number of tests to 50,000 a day. The target for vaccinations has also been enhanced.

However, a visit to a few PHCs in different zones of the city revealed that healthcare workers in these facilities do not have proper safety gear. Many staff members who were recruited for COVID-19 duty said they had not received their salaries for two months.

Mallikarjuna N. (name changed), a swab collector at a PHC in Rajarajeshwarinagar zone, had only a face shield and an N95 mask that he has already washed several times. Along with a pair of gloves, this was the only protection he had on while he took swabs from people who could potentially be infected. “We have not even been given sanitisers. We buy that ourselves. We have not received PPE kits for nearly two months now,” he said.

His colleagues, too, were working under similar conditions. The COVID-19 duty doctor at the PHC, for instance, had not been given a surgical mask.

Reusing kits

At another PHC in the West zone, Akshay Devaraj (name changed) said that they sometimes reused the PPE kits. “When the cases crossed 3,000 a day, the BBMP used to send PPE kits, masks, sanitisers and gloves regularly. When the cases dropped, so did the regular supply. Though we send indents for these materials, it is never fulfilled,” he said.

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Every day, around 200 RT-PCR tests are performed by the healthcare workers in this PHC coming under Dasarahalli zone. Though the staff there claimed they had the requisite materials, when The Hindu visited the facility, the staff were only wearing surgical masks, and some had lowered these masks as well.

Delayed salaries

Many health workers also complained of delayed payments. “Salaries for November and December were disbursed in February. I am struggling to pay rent,” said Mallikarjuna, the swab collector at a PHC in Rajarajeshwarinagar zone. Data entry operators and Group D workers also said that they have not been paid for the past two months. Jayanthi Babu (name changed), a Group D worker in a PHC in Bengaluru’s West zone, said she was the sole bread winner and had borrowed money to buy provisions to feed her family of four.

When contacted, BBMP Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad, however, claimed that there was no shortage of either PPE kits or other safety gear. He maintained that the civic body has been distributing the safety gear to all 141 PHCs coming under it. “These must be isolated cases. I will check and look into it,” he said.

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