Train-car Hospitals Combat COVID-19 in India
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
BY HUGO LEE
As COVID-19 cases in India reach over eight million cases, Indian hospitals are quickly running out of hospitals and hospital beds. Construction of new hospitals is indeed underway to compensate for the mounting number of patients that far exceed the limited capacities of India’s hospitals, but such efforts have proven futile with the daily increase in COVID-19 cases nearing over 50,000 cases. Instead of continuing their laborious and hopeless efforts to build new hospitals against the overwhelming tide of new COVID-19 cases, the Indian government has resorted to a wholly new strategy: converting buildings and public spaces into makeshift hospitals. Over the past few months, the Indian government and medical officials have initiated programs aimed at transforming the now-empty tourist lodgings such as hotels and hostels, as well as structures for transportation such as train cars into emergency makeshift clinics for the ever-increasing number of COVID-19 patients in India.
Among the most bizarre and large scale transformations taking place is the conversion of train cars into hospitals. Last April, India’s home minister offered 500 railway carriages to use for makeshift hospitals to counter the spike of COVID-19 cases in New Delhi. Since then, following the pause of all locomotive transport services in late April, the number of “hospital train carriages” have proliferated to a whopping 5,000 railway carriages converted into COVID-19 isolation wards that currently hold thousands of patients. Converting the many train cars into secure isolation wards is no easy task. First, all the cars need to be sprayed carefully with disinfectant to preserve the necessary sanitary conditions for the recovery of a patient and the safety of medical workers. Next, the middle berth on one side in each cabin needs to be removed while the lower berth is converted into a makeshift patient bed complete with clean sheets, pillows, and the necessary cushioning. To prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the patients, each patient area also needs to be equipped with medical-grade plastic curtains and all cabins must be separated with adequate plywood covering. Cabins for doctors and medical staff must also be provided. Finally, the necessary power outlets as well as an intricate system of wiring and electric sockets to connect the power sources to the necessary medical instruments must be installed along with the establishment of a connection to an external electric supply.
The work, although grueling, is certainly paying off. So far, the makeshift hospitals have successfully accommodated and treated 80,000 patients, many of whose lives were saved from the brink of death. With a further intensified conversion program aimed at converting 375 train cars per day underway, the train car conversion program is surely gaining momentum and significantly expanding the treatment capabilities and capacities of the overwhelmed Indian medical department against the surging cases of COVID-19. Although India undoubtedly did one of the poorest jobs in preventing the spread of the pandemic in its early stages, its commitment to a rigorous makeshift hospital conversion program poses a model example for other hard-hit countries to follow. India’s quick, direct response to the spikes in COVID-19 cases by converting train cars and other little-used facilities into elaborate hospital wards has clearly been superior to other countries’ belated responses, notably the United States’ failure to adjust its absurdly costly healthcare system to the dire medical situation imposed by the outbreak of the pandemic. India does have among the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases, but when its enormous 1.3 billion population is taking into account, the third-world country despite its deficient supplies of medical equipment and medical personnel is doing a truly admirable job of keeping their COVID-19 cases at bay.