As the first COVID-19 patient from Arunachal Pradesh was detected, there was tension simmering in the state. While on one hand, the first priority of the state functionary was to treat the patient, they also had to deal with the panic stricken people. Despite, there was fear, anxiety and confusion among the people, but it was the frontliners whose collective efforts have made the state coronavirus free, whilst calming the dismayed public.
The frontliners, who have been working day in and day out, left no stone unturned to make the state a COVID-19 free zone. NET got in touch with one who led from the front- Dr Sajinglu Chai Pul, District Medical Officer from Lohit District, Arunachal Pradesh, who played a significant role in the fight against the pandemic in the state.
What was your first reaction when you got to know that Arunachal Pradesh has detected its first positive case?
The news of Delhi congregation has already spread like wildfire, and there was a stigma in the society in line with the disease. The patient was already put under home quarantine by the district administration, and as soon as the results came positive on April 2, I called up the authorities concerned, since it was a sensitive issue and it may call for law and order situation. We made sure that the patient does not spread the virus. We immediately transferred the patient to the isolation ward at the zonal general hospital at Tezu in Lohit District. His entire family was also quarantined in a separate facility.
People were engulfed with fear, anxiety and were uncertain of what lies ahead. As the news came to the fore, there have been objections from several grounds. There was a certain section of people who were adamant that the patient should be shifted to the COVID designated hospital, Tomo Riba Institute of Health & Medical Sciences (THRIMS), I said how can I shift the patient who is asymptomatic, there is a criteria for shifting the patient. The administration and medical authorities were also pointed fingers for treating the patient at the zonal hospital.
Moreover, there were apprehensions about the personal protection equipment (PPE) amongst the medical personnels, as they feared that they might get infected.
So challenges were many, we just maintained our coolness, this was not unexpected. People definitely will be panicking even the doctors and nurse were scared. However, we were well prepared.
How did you and your team deal with the COVID-19 patient?
The patient was asymptomatic, he did not show any symptoms of the virus. So we refrained from giving him any antibiotics as that would make him weak. We rather relied on vitamins and a healthy diet. Apart from that, we also gave warm water, ginger tea, etc. as we usually consume when we have a cold and cough. However, the most prominent thing was proper counselling. The patient was already stigmatized by what was happening around. It was important for the person to be positive and mentally strong. We have counsellors who reported me about his condition everyday.
As you said earlier the medical team was scared, how did you encourage them? And how prepared was your team?
The patient was kept in an isolation ward and that was completely sealed from the rest of the hospital. The OPD was closed, but the flu corner, casualty and delivery sections were opened 24×7. People were haunted with misconceptions and said that the hospital would now turn into a ‘Ghost House’.
No doubt the corona factor is scary. When we were preparing the action plan, even before we get the positive case, there was an objection by the medical team regarding the PPEs. But I knew if I let them loose at this moment we won’t be able to do anything. Fortunately, we received more PPE kits by the night the patient was admitted. The risk factor is always there, but the doctors, nurses and assistants were also my priority. I strictly instructed them not to go inside the isolation ward until and unless it is necessary. We maintained the protocols and separate teams were set up for the treatment of the patient, and each team was later sent to 14 day-quarantine after a stint of 10 days.
Thankfully, none of the staffs got infected and the patient got discharged on April 17. The day the second negative result came, I can’t express my happiness and I was thrilled. The medical team felt so relaxed and were relieved from a huge burden.
The entire medical team was well trained and went under a sensitization workshop. We were constantly in touch about the medical preparedness with the DC, and we also had mock drills like in case if a positive patient comes what should be done. We are conducting workshops with almost everyone like ANMs and ASHAs and the local people.
While leading the medical staff in the treatment of the patient, you also calmed the public’s fury, How did you manage to do so?
When the patient was tested positive in Lohit district, there was panic all over the state. But as a doctor, my first priority is to treat the patient. Even though there is a fear of infection, but that’s our duty and the public must respect our work.
“Work is worship”, “service to mankind is service to god”, are not just phrases, for me that is something I believe the day I joined my service in 1986, so we were mentally very prepared in it.
Apart from conducting workshops and sensitizing the public we were giving radio talks in local dialects and went to villages so that we can reach out to more people in the state.
Any person coming from outside was screened and monitored. The district administration, police officials, surveillance officers and the medial officials all swung into action as soon the positive case was detected. The battle won’t be possible without the administration’s support. We also roped in the village heads and NGOs and involved them in imparting the rules of social distancing and distributed face masks. Gradually, I started doing the non-pharmaceutical interventions and awareness on COVID, or the other hand the DC would look about the distribution of rations and encouraged the people to maintain social distancing. Moreover, lockdown and helpline numbers were there, through which we have been explaining almost everything to the public.
I have already realized that a psychological thing was developing amongst the people, after a meeting with the DC, we formed a telephonic counselling session which was opened for 24×7 to the public.
Inspite of all the preparedness, people were speculative, however, once the patient recovered everybody was happy, relaxed and were all praises.
Was this one of the most challenging phases of your career?
Yes, definitely! I have completed 33 years of my service and I have never seen a case like this. There was panic, objections and speculation, but at the end of the day, it was a lifetime experience. We feel proud that we were a part of the COVID team, and in all my workshops and meetings this is my motivational speech to my team of doctors and nurses- we should be happy that we got the chance to save the people during this pandemic, so many of our seniors got retired this is something to remember.
What was your family’s reaction, when you led from the front?
My family was worried, but at the same time very supportive. We had to stay all day in the hospital and were not able to go home. My sons and sisters would call me and asked to take care of myself. I rather asked my sisters to contribute to the Tezu Hospital, and I am thankful they did generously.
Dr, Sajinglu Chai Pul did her MBBS course from Lady Harding’s Medical College, New Delhi. Known for her calm and composed nature, she led the medical team in treating the lone COVID-19 positive patient from Arunachal Pradesh.
The 31-year-old patient from Medo in Lohit district has a travel history to Delhi and was put under home quarantine since March 20. He had tested positive for COVID-19 on April 2. After testing negative twice he was discharged on April 17, and put under home quarantine, all the family members of the patient has been tested negative.
Arunachal Pradesh now is a COVID-19 free state.