Dengue Epidemic: Epic struggle within a hospital

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By 2017-07-16

By Methmalie Dissanayake

In the previous years, we could see the number of dengue patients reducing in February. That is the normal pattern. It was in July that we could see the number of patients rising. But this time, since last November, the number who are affected by dengue has been steadily increasing, Dr. Nilanthi Pathirana, Director of the Negombo District General Hospital said. Speaking to Ceylon Today during our recent visit to the hospital, Dr. Pathirana pointed out that this year began with a high number of dengue patients. "In 2016, we treated approximately 2,500 patients for dengue and six deaths were recorded. But this year, from January to July we got more than 4,000 patients and there have been 10 deaths," she stated.

Alarming epidemic

According to the official website of Sri Lanka Epidemiology Unit, during the first six months of this year, 80,732 suspected dengue cases have been reported to the Epidemiology Unit from all over the island.

"Approximately 43.22% of dengue cases were reported from the Western Province. The highest number of dengue cases was reported during the 25th week of 2017," the website pointed out.

Furthermore, the American cable news network, CNN, on 6 July, reported that the health experts worry about the possible rise of the death toll in the coming months, which stands at 227 at the moment.

Combating the virus

The CNN also reported that health workers are struggling to cope with the rapid spread of the virus. With the limited health infrastructure facilities and manpower, the doctors and other health sector workers have been putting a huge effort into treating patients since the beginning of this year.

Dr. Nilanthi Pathirana confirmed the CNN report.

"In the hospital we only had 187 beds allocated for dengue wards. But when the wards began to be flooded with patients, those beds became insufficient. Usually, we got 400-600 patients every day, who had to be treated in the hospital," she said.

However, the hospital did not turn away anyone who needed immediate medical assistance. First, they placed two patients on a single bed. When the numbers of patients were increasing they took them in and gave space at least on the floor for everyone.

"At the Negombo Hospital, we have an excellent medical staff. They never complain. If not for their dedication and sacrifices, this situation could have been much worse. Even when they are suffering from both fever and lack of facilities due to the congestion, the patients never utter a single word against our staff. Because they know how many hardships the doctors and other staff members have to go through in this crucial time," Dr. Pathirana said.

When the number of patients who needed to be admitted was increasing, hospital authorities decided to allocate three more wards for dengue patients. They pulled out eye, ENT and gynaecology wards from normal day-to-day operations and transferred dengue patients there. After this, they had 284 beds. But after few days they could not cope with the number of patients arriving, even with that number of beds. That was when President Maithripala Sirisena visited the hospital, the director added.

President's visit

On 29 June, the President visited the dengue wards of the Negombo Hospital.

During the visit he inspected the activities of the hospital and held a special discussion with the doctor in charge of the dengue treatment unit, the President's official news website reported.

"The President witnessed the congestion at the dengue wards. There were so many people on the floor. We had to accommodate some patients on trolleys as well. The President, after seeing this situation directed health officials to take quick actions to expand the infrastructure facilities."

The hospital did not have enough staff to take care of patients. After the President's visit 48 nurses, 35 doctors and six laboratory assistants were directed to the hospital. Apart from that more than 100 Army personnel, including an Army medical doctor, also came to the hospital.

Support of the Army

Assistance given by the Armed Forces during the dengue epidemic is immeasurable, Dr. Pathirana said.

SL Army, responding to the quick need, built two temporary wards for dengue patients at the hospital premises. They came with all the necessary equipment for those wards, according to the requirements of the hospital authorities.

Apart from temporary wards, the Army put up a separate laboratory to carry out blood tests and other laboratory procedures. This unit, along with other hospital laboratory units, operates 24 hours a day.

Moreover, following the instructions given by the President, the Army finished the construction work of the 3rd floor of the new 8-storeyed ward complex within a week. The 3rd floor has two separate wards for males and females.

On the day Ceylon Today visited the hospital (5 July), the patients were being moved to the newly-built 3rd floor.

Community help

Dr. Pathirana said they received numerous help and assistance from the community.

Sri Lanka Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance Service gave valuable assistance in taking care of patients, the Hospital Director said.

Sisters of Catholic Church also participate in relief works. Politicians in the area also visit the hospital. Knowing the effort of the medical staff the politicians and banks in the region send lunch and other food items for staff, she added.

Need of volunteers

The hospital currently is in need of volunteers to assist hospital staff prepare documents, carrying documents and other equipment within the hospital and similar work.

Therefore, individuals who have fair English language knowledge and computer literacy can contact the hospital and offer their help, Dr. Pathirana pointed out.

Furthermore, the hospital is in need of equipments such as beds, nets, cupboards and saline stands. Fans and air-coolers are also in need for children's wards to maintain the temperature, the Director said.

She added that if anyone is willing to offer their help for the hospital, they can contact the authorities via telephone No: 031-2222261.

(Pix Sajeewa Chinthaka)

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