Covid-19 in India: Patients struggle at home as hospitals choke

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As hospitals in Delhi and many other cities run out of beds, people have been forced to find ways to get treatment for sick patients at home. Many have turned to the black market, where prices of essential medicines, oxygen cylinders and concentrators have skyrocketed and questionable drugs are now proliferating.

On Monday, India recorded a new global high for daily coronavirus cases for a fifth straight day at 352, 991.

Anshu Priya could not get a hospital bed in Delhi or its suburb of Noida for her father-in-law and as his condition continued to deteriorate. She spent most of Sunday looking for an oxygen cylinder bt her search as futile.

So she finally turned to the black market. She paid a hefty amount – 50,000 rupees ($670; £480) – to procure a cylinder that normally costs 6,000 rupees. With her mother-in-law also struggling to breathe, Anshu knew she may not be able to find or afford another cylinder on the black market.

This is a familiar story not just in Delhi but also in Noida, Lucknow, Allahabad, Indore and so many other cities where families are desperately cobbling together makeshift arrangements at home.

But most of India’s population cannot afford to do this. There are already several reports of people dying at the doorsteps of hospitals because they couldn’t afford to buy essential drugs and oxygen on the black market.

The BBC called several oxygen cylinder suppliers and most of them asked for at least 10 times more than the normal price.

The situation is particularly dire in Delhi where there are no ICU beds left. Families of those who can afford it are hiring nurses and consulting doctors remotely to keep their loved ones breathing.

But the struggles are huge from getting blood tests done to getting a CT scan or x-ray.

Labs are overrun and it’s taking up to three days for test results to come back. This is making it harder for treating doctors to assess the progression of the disease. CT scans are also used by doctors to asses the condition of the patient but it’s taking days to get an appointment.

Doctors say that these delays are putting many patients at risk. RT-PCR tests are also taking days. I know several sick patients who found a bed but couldn’t get admitted as they didn’t have a positive Covid report.

Anuj Tiwari hired a nurse to assist in the treatment of his brother at home after he was refused admission in many hospitals.

Some said they didn’t have any free beds and others said they were not taking new patients due to continuing uncertainty over the supply of oxygen. A number of patients have died in Delhi due to a lack of oxygen supply. The city’s hospitals are desperate and some have been issuing daily warnings, saying they are left with just a few hours of oxygen. Then the government swings into action and tankers are sent, which is often enough to run the hospital for a day.

A doctor in Delhi said that was how hospitals were working and “there are real fears now that a big tragedy may happen”.

Given the scenario at hospitals, Mr Tiwari paid a hefty amount to procure a concentrator – which can extract oxygen from the air – keep his brother breathing. The doctor also asked him to arrange the anti-viral drug remdesivir, which has been given emergency-use approval in India and is being prescribed widely by doctors. The benefits of the drug – which was originally developed to treat Ebola – are still being debated across the world.

Mr Tiwari couldn’t find the drug in any medicine shop and eventually turned to the black market. His brother’s condition continues to be critical and the treating doctor says he may soon need a hospital where remdesvir could be administered.


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