Apathy has taken centerstage instead of compassion amidst the Covid-19 crisis. There have been reports of people being ostracised over the fears of coronavirus and medical authorities refusing to admit patients not afflicted with coronavirus, at their facilities.
Due to this, many people who could have been saved, have lost their lives in vain. Not just this, the apathy and ostracisation continues even after death with the deceased being refused a dignified funeral.
In Bhubaneswar, a woman, with her daughter was left on the road with the body of her husband, who died after he was refused treatment by many private hospitals. The man was diabetic and needed immediate medical help. His wife and daughter arranged a vehicle to take him to the hospital with much difficulty, but he was refused admission everywhere he went. This happened because the wife and her daughter came from near a containment zone. After two hospitals refused to admit Rabindra Nayak, he was attended to by a doctor at another hospital, but it was too late by then. The woman and her daughter were not allowed to enter their rented home in Basudeb Nagar by their landlord and the woman had to wait for her son with her husband’s body on the road, waiting for her son who was away. The man’s daughter completed his funeral rites, after which she and her mother left for their native village in face of such apathy.
In Chennai, a 53-year-old man, Ravi, a daily wage labourer, was denied his right to shelter and died on the roadside at Kumaran Nagar. His body lay unattended for another eight hours because the officials could not decide which department was to take the responsibility in the matter. Ravi had developed a severe cough while he had moved in with his sister. He was taken to the hospital for a Covid-19 test and the ambulance dropped him back home after the test. However, residents in the area and the landlord refused Ravi from entering his sister’s house. This was on March 28. After this treatment, he went away and two days later, corporation officials found him sleeping on the street 100 meters away from his sister’s house. The officials called an ambulance designated for Covid-19 patients which came an hour late. By then, he had passed away. Since his test results were pending, it caused confusion among the officials. A police officer said that the confusion lasted for eight hours and also that the ambulance refused to transport the body. They didn’t know whether the hospital staff was supposed to deal with the matter or the police. Finally, the corporation, along with the police and hospital staff took Ravi’s body to the mortuary. The landlord asked the police to not conduct Ravi’s final rites in his premises and Ravi’s sister refused to claim his body. When Ravi’s Covid-19 test results came in, he was found to not be suffering from coronavirus.
In Hyderabad, people refused to touch and provide medical assistance to a person who collapsed due to a stroke, for the fear of getting infected with Covid-19. The victim, Koppula Venkatesh (55) had come to the rythu bazaar to purchase vegetables for Ugadi following the relaxation of the curfew. He suffered from a stroke and collapsed, all the while asking for help, but no one came forward to assist him. The police was informed and it rushed there with an ambulance, but found him dead. They shifted him to the government headquarters hospital mortuary for an autopsy.
Last month in Bihar, a woman and her husband were forced to walk with the body of their 3-year-old after the state-run hospital in Jehanabad, about 48 kms from the capital of Patna, where the child passed away, could not provide an ambulance. The parents accused the administration of apathy as they couldn’t ensure timely treatment for their child due to the shortage of ambulances. The child had a fever, cold and cough and was taken to local doctors but as his condition worsened, he was referred to a hospital in Jehanabad. The child was bought to Jehanabad in a tempo as there were no ambulances available. When the parents reached Sadar Hospital at Jehanabad, the doctors there referred them to Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) but didn’t arrange for an ambulance. The father alleges that he lost his son due to this negligence.
In New Delhi, it took a nursing orderly at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital to get admitted to a hospital in the national capital after she found out she had Covid-19. Pinky Gautam was exposed to the infection while attending to patients at the GTB Hospital’s ICU ward. She had to wait for a whole day before she got a bed and treatment. Her test reports had come out positive on April 22, but it was only on the evening of April 23 that she got admitted to the Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital. Her husband complained that Pinky wasn’t the only one to suffer this negligence. Another staff at the hospital had been found to be Covid-19 positive, but it was only after 12 hours that she was given a bed.
In Bengaluru, Lata Sundar lost her father, a 95-year-old World War II veteran who had suffered a fracture and was shunted between eight different hospitals solely because private hospitals simply refused to admit new patients. She was shunted between hospitals, from a private one to a government one which insisted he get a Covid-19 test done and return. By the time she got him admitted to a hospital in a make-shift hospital, at a fourth hospital, it had been 11 hours since he had been on the road without any food. Three days later, she had to shift her father with the hospital citing that that the government had ordered small hospitals to shut. The ordeal went on for 21 days, cost her nearly 4 lakh and made her go through seeing her father sink with each passing day. It was at the eighth hospital, where he died. Lata said, “He died not because of his infection but because of apathy. The hospitals simply refused to admit new patients, it was inhuman. Sometimes I wonder… maybe it would have been better if he was affected by Covid-19. At least then, he would have stood a chance. Here, he did not stand a chance, it was as simple as that. If you are a non-Covid19 patient, you don’t stand a chance.”
In another instance, a Dubai resident, blamed the ‘coronavirus paranoia’ for his father’s death in Madhya Pradesh, last month. Moeen Ali, 39, said his father Sayyed Aashiq Ali, 65, was suffering from breathlessness caused by a heart ailment yet no private hospital in his hometown would admit him over coronavirus fears. Moeen said that his mother took his father, Aashiq Ali to five different private hospitals in Indore on March 25, but each one turned him down saying he wouldn’t be attended to unless he had been tested for Covid-19 and ruled negative. Moeen couldn’t do much because of the travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. He tweet to the Madhya Pradesh authorities but didn’t get a response. His mother then got his father admitted to a government-run tuberculosis and chest hospital where he was tested for coronavirus and underwent basic treatment for pulmonary inflammation. Moeen says that his father’s heart condition which caused his death, was never addressed. Aashiq Ali passed away following early a cardiac arrest on March 28. Later that evening, the family got his COVID-19 test result. It was negative. What’s worse was is that Moeen’s family is continuously being ostracized by neighbours who fear that his father died due to Covid-19 and that his mother may be a carrier of the infection.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) issued a notice to the Agra administration following a complaint filed about the death of two children and a woman delivering a stillborn, after they were allegedly denied treatment by several hospitals. The notice issued by the NCPCR to the district magistrate of Agra read, “According to the complaint based on news reports published in various newspapers of Agra, Mohd Bilal Hamza and Afsana Gauri took their 8-month-old son to a private hospital and then to SN Medical College, Agra, where the baby was not provided with immediate treatment and died. Similarly, in another case, a 12-year-old boy was not attended at a private hospital and the government hospital, and was sent back home. And in the third case, a foetus died after the pregnant woman did not get timely treatment.”
Not much has been done to address these routine problems. Some officials say that the panic had fuelled fear among hospitals and doctors who are even refusing to see patients with symptoms similar to the coronavirus.
Taking serious note of people obstructing final rites of COVID-19 victims in Kurnool district, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has directed DGP Gautam Sawang to take stringent action against those resorting to violence against healthcare workers and the police. On Tuesday night, people of Prajanagar Colony on the outskirts of Kurnool city pelted stones at civic officials and police personnel when they were trying to bury bodies of COVID-19 victims near Jagannatha Gattu.
However, how much ever officials may acknowledge the issue as continuing to be prevalent, the reports of such medical negligence and apathy have not stopped. Until and unless healthcare workers and other members of the community are sensitized towards the problem, it will continue to persist and the number of deaths due to non-Covid-19 related ailments and ostracization may end up spiking more than Covid-19 deaths in the country.
(Sources – The New Indian Express, The Hindu, NDTV, News 18, Gulf News, The Times of India)