Farah Baig speaks to the Chief Resident of SMC Accident and Emergency Department, Dr. P.V. Cheriyan about the Kingdom of Bahrain’s healthcare system, COVID-19 and more.
With decades of experience practicing medicine in the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Chief Resident of the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) Accident and Emergency Department, and Governing Council Member of Bahrain Medical Society, Dr. P.V. Cheriyan is no stranger to the Kingdom of Bahrain’s healthcare sector. He sheds some light on the latest developments in Bahrain’s healthcare, the Kingdom’s noteworthy response to COVID-19 and awareness campaigns.
You have had a long and illustrious career in healthcare in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Can you tell our readers about your start in the medical field in Bahrain?
Having started working at the Accident & Emergency Department from 16th October 1979, I have completed my career of nearly 42 years in the medical field in Bahrain. Other than treating patients, I was also administrative resident – in charge of duty list, salary, overtime and other benefits of over 50 doctors in the department from 1987 till 2012, and was also responsible for GOSI – General Organisation of Social Insurance – for workers due to occupational injuries.
Aside from this, I was also medical co-ordinator of all national and international events at Bahrain – including F1 and all events at Bahrain International Circuit from 2004 till 2019, football matches, GCC meetings, visits of dignitaries etc. I was also, notably, a member of the Medical Team of Late Prime Minister, HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, from 2012 to 2020.
As a doctor who has practiced medicine in the Kingdom of Bahrain for several years, what are your thoughts on the strides that the Kingdom has made in healthcare?
Bahrain has made tremendous progress in the healthcare sector for the last few years. Here we have a strong network of primary, secondary and tertiary care system – over 30 primary health centers, government and private hospitals providing world class healthcare to the residents. I have witnessed the tremendous improvements in infrastructure, manpower, facilities, latest modern equipment etc.
You are an active member of the Cancer Care group. Could you highlight the group’s activities, collaborations and community outreach programme?
The Cancer Care Group, affiliated with Bahrain Cancer Society, has been actively involved in various activities to support the needy section of the society – not only taking care of Cancer victims, but also for various lifestyle diseases like Diabetes, Hypertension, Stroke, Obesity, and also Psychological and Psychiatric illnesses. We work closely with various Ministries including Health, Labour and Social Development, Education, Interior etc.
There are several activities that the group carries out. For instance, we conduct awareness lectures at schools, universities, clubs and associations, businesses and more to prevent the spread of diseases. We also conduct regular medical checkups and screening programs in addition to seminars, conferences and lectures. We promote medical tourism to various destinations where needy patients can get affordable healthcare, and conduct hospital visits on a weekly basis and offer support to them. We have been actively participating in the heat illness prevention drive for workers under the Ministry of Labour and Social Development in collaboration with various embassies, Indian Community Relief Fund (ICRF) -for workers and employers of various labour camps – providing them with a medical checkup, health talks and presenting them with gifts too for several years.
How has the healthcare system of Bahrain adapted to combat obesity-related illnesses?
Obesity and other life style diseases are rising drastically. Periodic screening and checking procedures, counseling on proper diet and need for exercise, avoiding high calorie and fast foods have been stressed by healthcare practitioners.
We also have a lot of healthcare facilities in the Kingdom to take care of patients – we have excellent government hospitals like Salmaniya Medical Complex, King Hamad University Hospital, BDF Hospital, an excellent cardiac care center at Awali and many private medical centers and hospitals.
What are your thoughts on the Kingdom of Bahrain’s response to the outbreak of COVID-19?
The Kingdom of Bahrain stands in the forefront to combat COVID–19; through the guidance of The National Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus under the able leadership of HRH the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Bahrain did a wonderful job even without implementing and imposing unnecessary restrictions among its citizens such as curfews or lockdowns.
Many centers were swiftly established to do nasal swabbing for diagnostic purposes. In addition, various vaccines were available from numerous countries and were given to both: nationals and expatriates free of charge. Many health care facilities including field ICUs with equipment like ventilators were established. Countless benevolent actions have been taken by the wise leadership such as waiving of municipality and electricity charges, payment of salaries in private sector etc.
What were some of the precautions taken at the Accident and Emergency Department during the outbreak?
To start, specific areas were designed for the isolation of COVID-19 patients. Three floors out of six at SMC were earmarked to treat COVID cases. All staff were also provided with adequate masks, PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) and necessary medications.
After a long hiatus, schools are reopening and accepting students on campus in Bahrain. As a medical practitioner, what are your thoughts on this?
It is the need of the hour to open schools so that children will start to learn in a social atmosphere, mingle and interact with their peers and teachers, get involved in curricular and co-curricular activities, sports and social activities too. As we are taking adequate COVID-19 protocols and preventative measures, we do not have to be unnecessarily anxious and worried.
Do you have any thoughts on the success of the vaccination campaign in Bahrain?
Bahrain is one of the countries which started the vaccination campaign well in advance – after the initial three phases of vaccination testing. We started the vaccination campaign, initially administering them to high-risk patients with comorbidities and later to adults of all age groups. Now they have started vaccinations to pregnant ladies, lactating mothers and children. A large portion of the population has been vaccinated. The Embassy of India also took the initiative to vaccinate those without proper documents who were unable to register. We are proud that Bahrain has vaccinated a majority of its population, created a herd immunity and has almost contained the virus.
COVID-19 is said to have lingering health implications in individuals who have recovered from the virus. What would be your advice to those who have recovered?
Post Covid Syndrome or the “Long Covid” after recovery from COVID-19 can bring about a lot of complications – both physical and psychological. The heart, brain, lungs, kidney and all vital organs may be involved. It can bring in fatigue, depression, and can even lead to morbidity and mortality.
What are some of the main changes or developments that have taken place at the Accident and Emergency Department over the last 5 years?
At present we have a lot of doctors trained in various emergency specialties abroad; a lot of doctors have successfully completed the four- year post graduate Arab Board Residency Programme. The number of beds has been increased too. Several new changes can be anticipated in the near future – autonomous functioning of Salmaniya Medical Complex, introduction of health insurance to all and more. The Kingdom’s healthcare system now functions under a three-tier system – Supreme Council for Health, Ministry of Health and National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA),