Indians forced to run from hospital to hospital as Covid-19 hits healthcare

By Sarwar Kashani

New Delhi, July 2 (efe-epa).- On a scorching summer day, Samarth Thapa was forced to drive around for an entire day with his ailing mother in the frantic hunt for a sickbed from one Delhi hospital to another after she developed clear Covid-19 symptoms.

He brought her home in the evening since the government-run as well as private hospitals across the Indian capital, a city of nearly 19 million residents, denied her critical care and refused admission on one or the other pretext.

“Nobody entertained us. I went to five private and government hospitals. We didn’t know what to do. Nobody was telling us what to do and where to go. She had clear Covid symptoms. We kept begging them,” Thapa, 28, told EFE.

This agonizing bid of a helpless son desperately trying to save the life of his 53-year-old mother, a known diabetic, is a worrying sign about India’s ability to cope with an imminent surge in coronavirus cases.

Almost a week later, Thapa’s mother’s condition deteriorated at home and an X-ray showed her lungs were already in the grip of a serious complication of coronavirus-related pneumonia.

“Her oxygen level was below 70. Had she been treated on time, she would not have had to suffer so much,” Thapa said.

He finally managed to get her admitted to a private hospital in central Delhi where she is still recovering after nearly two weeks in an intensive care unit.

Thapa’s odyssey is not a one-off in the country of 1.3 billion people where coronavirus crisis has accelerated, particularly after the government eased a two and a half month-long lockdown on June 8.

A database, which tracks publicly reported deaths, set up by an independent technologist Thejesh GN, found that at least 63 people, including pregnant women, have died in the last few weeks from being denied critical medical care.

However, the real figure is believed to be far higher than the cases curated by the technologist.

Having registered over 590,000 cases of the deadly virus with more than 17,000 fatalities, India is the fourth-worst affected country in the world, recording more than 15,000 cases every day over the last week.

The surge has caused a significant patient overload on hospitals, particularly in Delhi, despite the fact that it has the largest concentration of hospitals in the country with some 140 tertiary care healthcare centers, most of which appear not to be sufficiently Covid-ready.

A surge in cases has been reported from cities across India but Delhi has earned an unenviable distinction of the highest caseload in the country with nearly 90,000 cases, most of them registered in the recent weeks.

The rate of infection in the capital has been higher than the national average, sending the government and the city administration into a tizzy to make preparations for becoming battle-ready at the last minute

Health officials and some experts, however, said the spike in cases could also be a result of the government accelerating the testing rate for the virus, that now stands at over 200,000 samples per day across the country.

But that doesn’t explain why the government was caught off guard even after 75 days of lockdown, that devastated the country’s already weakening economy and sparked a humanitarian crisis as millions of migrant workers fled for their hometowns after suddenly losing their jobs.

During the lockdown, the central and state governments were expected to scale up their hospital capacity to prepare for the worst.

But experts believe that this has not been the case in a country whose total healthcare spending in 2019-20 stood at just 1.6 percent of the GDP as per official data, way lower than that of OECD nations, with an average spending of 8.8 percent of their economy.

“It is almost like Delhi is sitting on a ticking time bomb and the situation in the rest of the country is equally dangerous,” Harjit Singh Bhatti, president of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, told EFE.

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