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  • Writer's pictureNavneet Kaur Kaur

How people in India created their own chain of medical network when their healthcare system was fail

The absence of support and missteps of the government left people abandoned. Hospitals that turned sick away, lifesaving oxygen that ran out, vaccines that are running low, medicine that was not available, as we were deep in the turmoil, people stepped in and took charge.

In May, new infections of coronavirus in India reached about 400,000, and more than 4,000 deaths were recorded in a day, but experts believe that the actual numbers are much higher than the official records. With a positivity rate of 33%, every 1 person in 3 tested positive for the virus, the capital recorded more than 20,000 fresh cases of coronavirus for more than a week consecutively.

The healthcare system was so overburdened that hospitals, doctors, and medical staff were forced to turn the sick away due to the acute shortage of oxygen, ventilators, antiviral drugs, and other medical supplies. People camped outside the hospitals on roads, after being turned away by several hospitals, some even died on hospital gates while waiting for oxygen and medical help.

The absence of support from the government authorities left people abandoned, who was incompetent to handle the biggest coronavirus outbreak in the country. At that time, NGOs, Organisations, volunteer groups, and individuals were filling up the vital gap that India’s authorities failed to do. Even though the government had set up online portals and helpline numbers for covid resources, they were not efficient enough. People on social media with even a little reach were connecting leads to needs by amplifying SOS appeals for oxygen, plasma, hospital beds, ICUs, eventually burial grounds, and crematoriums.

The pleas on social media were reaching miles away, collectively people have formed their healthcare chain of network and resources that stepped in when the government has failed them. People started tagging other users with a large following in hope of getting their SOS appeals amplified to an extent where their needs are met, people helped strangers sitting miles away through their phones and social media in hunting and verifying leads of oxygen, plasma, ventilators, ICU beds, and other supplies. Some Volunteer groups even started free or non-profit food services for covid affected families who were unable to cook themselves a good home-cooked nutritious meal.

Parmeet Singh says, “He felt helpless when his whole family was infected with the virus, and his cousin who’s just 35 years of age needed oxygen, while Parmeet lives abroad, only social media leads were his hope left, he was able to procure a cylinder and get refills done with the help of some drivers in Delhi, as he was getting all the information of whereabouts of resources only through his Instagram.”

We can’t say the healthcare system collapsed but was stretched to the extreme, our medical healthcare workers were working 18–20 hours on the stretch to treat patients, some didn’t even sleep for 2 days. But they were forced to turn the sick patients away with heavy hearts due to an acute shortage of supplies. In the first week of May, 12 patients died in ICU as a hospital ran out of oxygen for 1.5 hours, multiple similar cases were recorded later, in other parts of the country.

When the basic allocation of oxygen to the capital was not met, as the State government demanded 700 MT of oxygen, approximately 480 MT was allocated, then Sikh Gurudwaras (temples), organizations and NGOs procured oxygen and cylinders from neighboring states and offered free oxygen to patients in need, people who couldn’t find any medical help, these makeshift oxygen langars were a blessing to them.

Santosh Kumar, an auto driver in Delhi describes that how he kept his father alive for three days on oxygen support and wandered around Delhi in search of a bed in hospital with his father in his auto, but couldn’t find a single bed for him, but on the fourth day he manages to get his father admitted at Vallabhai Patel Covid Facility, but after 2 hours of admission the authorities called him to tell that his father couldn’t make it, meanwhile, his mother’s oxygen saturation level dropped to 80, he felt hoaxed by the hospital, scared he decided, to not take his mother to the hospital and treat her at home. He was successful in treating her mother, but he feels hoaxed for his father.

Crematorium grounds were so overrun, that workers there were working for 16–18 hours every day for more than a week, keeping a count of cremations taking places was difficult for anybody, workers tell people were forced to cremate their loved ones in mass cremations that were taking place without knowing which pyre belongs to them, people who were unable to afford the skyrocketing prices of wood needed for the funeral were forced to bury their loved ones at river banks, some were even left abandoned. Thousands of dead bodies were seen floating in The Ganges of Uttar Pradesh.

“The dead bodies were piled up on the ground without any attendees, people were asking for help to pick up and carry dead bodies of their loved ones to the final cremation platform. The authorities of the crematorium announced that they have reached capacity at 10 am in the morning that day. People who reached before time like him were lucky, others had to wait for the whole day in the heat. The bodies were kept down on roadsides, as finding ambulances and freezers was not an option available” Manshubh Singh says, who went to Beri Wala Bagh crematorium in Delhi to cremate his grandmother who died because of covid.

The crisis also brought the worst in people, as scammer sold oxygen cylinders at shockingly high prices, as high as ₹ 50,000, which was supposed to be around ₹ 7,000–10,000, people in desperate need of antiviral drugs like Remdesivir paid a hefty amount for even one vial which was sold in the black market for ₹ 25,000 which was supposed to range between ₹ 899 -3,490 per 100ml vial. Some ambulances charged people ₹25,000 for covering even a distance of only 4km.

Pukit Kukreja managed to procure 2 vials of Remdesivir for 25–35k, which were sold by the people who were admitted to the hospital and had one or two doses left with them. He was on his hunt for more vials as doctors had asked for Six doses, when he got another dose of Remdesiver from a dealer who was selling it ₹ 25,000, later when he opened the packaging, he found only 1/10 of what the quantity should be, he realized that he was looted. By the end of his hunt he managed to procure 6 vials of Remdesiver for his cousin brother at the cost of 1.5 lakhs, he paid the amount as they already had lost one family member, and didn’t want to take any chances, but unfortunately, his cousin also couldn’t make it. Pulkit ran in search of oxygen cylinders and refills for almost a week, and later he has tested positive for the virus himself.

Many believe that people who might have survived, died as a result of the poor healthcare system, and the negligence of the Government towards the warning of the second wave given by experts.

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