Opinion

Oxygen Shortage Still Killing COVID-19 Patients Across India

Thirteen Covid-19 patients died at Goa’s apex government hospital, the Goa Medical College, in the early hours of Friday owing to oxygen mismanagement.

Thirteen Covid-19 patients died at Goa’s apex government hospital, the Goa Medical College, in the early hours of last Friday owing to oxygen mismanagement, even as the death toll of patients who died between 2 am and 6 am at the premier facility reached 75 in four days.

Videos of chaos at the numerous wards of the medical college have gone viral, with patients, relatives pleading for assistance as well as uploading emotive snapshots of helplessness and lack of hygiene in the health facility. A video shot at ward number 145, shows patients sleeping on mattresses and with oxygen monitors beeping in the background and the dull echo of family members patting patients in a bid to reassure them. The video also shows debris of used food packets and other waste piled in a corner of the ward, spilling out of garbage bags.

In another video, shot by a relative at Ward 147, the relative complains of a procession of six to seven deaths at the hospital ward due to oxygen shortage. “The government says there is enough oxygen supply and is playing with the lives of people”.

Dark Hour of Deaths – Vijay Sardesai

An Opposition MLA of the Goa Forward party Vijai Sardesai has called the four hours between 2 am and 6 am — when most of the deaths have happened — as the “dark hour” of death. “In all 75 people have died at the dark hour between 2am to 6am in the dead of the night on the last four consecutive nights,” Sardesai said.

While 26 persons died on May 10 during the four hours, on May 11, 21 persons died due to lack of oxygen. Despite a grilling of government agencies by the Bombay High Court, which is hearing a bunch of public interest litigations related to poor Covid management and shoddy oxygen management at the premier hospital, the spate of deaths did not stop, with 15 persons dying on May 12 and 13 patients dying in the early hours of Friday.

High Court Intervention

“There is a complete collapse of governance. In spite of HC intervention, deaths are happening at this dark hour. Rather than the government, HC (High Court) should rule Goa because the government is doing nothing other than photo ops and filing cases against those who expose them,” Sardesai said.

Goa High Court on Covid-19 Deaths
Goa High Court

Early Friday, a team of youth Congress officials, which has been assisting patients with refilling of oxygen cylinders for several days, also visited the Covid-19 ward of the medical college. “If HC has to intervene in every matter, why do you need a government? We had demanded RTPCR tests to be made mandatory because of increasing tourist footfalls in Goa, especially from Maharashtra which was facing a huge spike,” Youth Congress president Varad Mardolkar said.

“This oxygen issue has been around for 14-15 days. But the government could not fix a problem like this. it took the High Court to intervene and take some steps to address the crisis,” Mardolkar said.

The Goa government on Thursday had formed a committee, headed by Indian Institute of Technology-Goa director Dr. BK Mishra, to streamline oxygen supply to the facility. The committee is expected to submit a report within three days.

Collection of COVID-19 Deaths Due to Oxygen Shortage

For several weeks now, as a severe second wave of COVID-19 infections wreaks havoc in the country, one of the most pressing concerns has been a shortage of medical oxygen to treat patients. Not just individual patients but even hospitals have been using social media to issue SOS calls; several hospitals have even moved high courts asking for their oxygen supply to be replenished on an emergency basis. State governments, too, have pointed fingers both at each other and at the Centre, blaming other governments for blocking supplies.

In the midst of all this, it is, of course, the patients who suffer. Numerous reports have been coming in of COVID-19 patients dying not of the disease itself, but because they were unable to get the oxygen support needed even while in hospital.

The Wire is putting together a list of the deaths that have officially been attributed to an oxygen shortage. They have culled these from media reports and from a Twitter thread created by Aditi Priya, a research associate at LEAD at Krea University. So far, they have collated the details of 223 deaths in which the hospital authorities or local administrations have confirmed oxygen shortage as the proximate cause, and another 70 deaths in which the patients’ families have alleged that the lack of oxygen was to blame but the authorities have not confirmed the allegation.

The Digpu News Bottomline

Oxygen shortage has been one of the leading causes for the massive death rate that India has seen in the second wave of the virus. It took judicial interference to finally get the Central Government to pay heed to the demands of states where the oxygen supply deficit was threatening to take hundreds of lives.

However, it is shocking to see that despite directions from the Supreme Court of India and various High Courts across the country, Oxygen shortage is still resulting in deaths. What is happening in Goa is what we can see. Rural India that has negligible mobile connectivity and almost an entirely absent healthcare system, has not returned any statistics in this regard.

Will the government be ever held accountable for these deaths or will they become mere statistical figures with each passing day?

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