Hell before healing

The dismal conditions at quarantine centres across the country are more killing than the disease itself

The word “quarantine centre” has become the colonial equivalent of “kaala paani” or confinement in the dreaded prison on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where our freedom fighters were condemned to die in pitiable conditions. Now we are condemning COVID-19 patients as untouchables and leaving them to their fate if the horror stories of conditions at isolation zones are anything to go by. According to the Government’s guidelines, each quarantine centre must have rooms/dormitories separated from one another with water, food, telephone, laundry and sanitation services. But the reality is so different that the Allahabad High Court actually took suo motu cognisance of the unhygienic and inhuman conditions at various quarantine centres in Uttar Pradesh after an engineer succumbed to the infection at one but not before apprising his wife of his plight. More lives could have been saved had the conditions enabled recovery than worsening the health of patients. This is not an isolated case. There are reports coming in from across the country of unhygienic conditions, soiled sheets, a few dirty toilets for scores of people, no social distancing, no privacy, shortage of food leading to people fighting over it, flies, mosquitoes, snakebites, staff behaving in a rude manner, treating people like untouchables and throwing food packets at them, lack of medicines for those who have diseases like diabetes and heart ailments and disinterested doctors ignoring their duty. No wonder then that there have been reports of people trying to flee quarantine centres, not reporting their conditions and committing suicide. Even doctors have been up in arms about the sorry state of affairs. With the Government exiting the lockdown in a graded manner and the country seeing a surge in cases coupled with increasing testing, the pressure on these centres is bound to increase. How then will it deal with the situation?

The Government should increasingly consider home quarantining people as the public healthcare infrastructure is obviously overwhelmed. Plus, it can also think of roping in the private sector healthcare providers or hotels, which can be turned into quarantine centres for those who can afford to pay. There can be different budgets to suit different pockets. This will free up Government facilities and money for the millions who cannot afford to pay. Desperate times call for desperate measures and it is time we began looking for out-of-the-box solutions to deal with this unprecedented situation. Corporates can be asked to foot the bills of the centres and make the expense part of their CSR. The Government should have created the infrastructure during the lockdown period. The fact that it could not reflects poorly on it.

Source: The Pioneer

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