Twice a day, New Delhi health worker Kamal Kumari receives an avalanche of WhatsApp messages from coronavirus patients, containing either a double-digit reading from a small medical device or a photo from his bright screen .
She scans the numbers on the 1,000 rupee ($ 13) oxygen monitor, known as the pulse oximeter, checks that they are all above the prescribed 95 mark, then notes them in her logbook .
“When we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t know what their oxygen levels are,” Kumari said, explaining how his team would be concerned about the rapid deterioration of patients’ condition as the Indian capital ran out of power. hospital beds. “We can now find out in time and refer patients to the hospital safely.”
The government in Delhi – where the national capital New Delhi is located – has so far distributed free pulse oximeters to more than 32,000 people, putting them at the heart of a plan to isolate most of the patients with asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic coronaviruses.
If we hadn’t done this, there wouldn’t even have been a place to stand in our hospitals.
Satyendar Jain, Minister of Health of Delhi
The program was designed in May, when coronavirus cases began to rise in the densely populated city of 20 million, sending panicked residents rushing to hospitals.
“If we hadn’t done this there wouldn’t even have been a place to stand in our hospitals,” Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain told Reuters.
With more than 3.5 million infections, India has reported the third highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, and states around the country have rolled out various measures to tackle the pandemic.
In Delhi, health officials began to notice “happy hypoxemia” – low levels of oxygen in the blood without any shortness of breath – which led to complications in coronavirus patients isolated at home, Jain said.
For regular monitoring, doctors told Jain that patients should either go to hospitals or use inexpensive oxygen monitors, many of which are made in China.
Delhi has recorded around 173,000 infections with just over 4,400 deaths. Only 14,700 cases remain active and many hospital beds are now empty.
Other cities around the world have also deployed the device.
In May, at the height of its epidemic, Singapore distributed several thousand oximeters to lone migrant workers in cramped dormitories, which had become the epicenter of the spread of the virus.
Singapore’s health ministry said the oximeters allow workers “to proactively monitor their own health and seek medical assistance if needed.”
In India, too, other states have adopted the Delhi model. Since the end of July, the state of northeast Assam has provided nearly 4,000 oximeters to isolated patients at home.
Some doctors are concerned that patients may not always know how to use the device.
“It is very important to properly train patients in the use of pulse oximeters,” said Dr Hemant Kalra, a pulmonologist in New Delhi, adding that the cheap and sub-standard oximeters flooding the market were also a problem.
Jain, however, said the government’s program has worked effectively, with not a single death among the thousands of patients in isolation at home in the past month and a half.
Oximeters have also helped reduce costly hospitalizations for mild cases, Jain said, saving more than 10 times the price of the device for each day of hospitalization.
On a hot and humid day last week, Kumari donned a protective suit, mask and goggles, before walking the narrow lanes of Chirag Delhi.
Along with a similarly dressed colleague, she stopped by Satish Kumar Soni’s home to check if he and three of his family members were ending their 10-day isolation period, and to retrieve two issued pulse oximeters. by the government.
Soni, a 59-year-old jeweler, said the device helped allay the family’s fears and anxiety as she slowly recovered.
“It is not such a serious illness,” he said. “If the oxygen level is good, then there is not much danger.”