Families use social media to find hospital beds in India as doctors turn Covid patients away

Joe Wallen
·4 min read
People stand in queues as they wait to register themselves for the Covid-19 coronavirus test at a testing centre - AFP
People stand in queues as they wait to register themselves for the Covid-19 coronavirus test at a testing centre - AFP
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Hundreds of Indians are turning to social media in desperate attempts to secure hospital beds for their family members as the country’s overwhelmed medical system struggles to cope with a devastating second wave.

“Urgently need [a] bed for 50-year-old Covid patient, who has many complications – severe breathing problems. No beds available in any hospital, pls [sic] help urgently,” wrote one Twitter user in Mumbai on Monday morning.

“My uncle needs an ICU bed immediately, age 73, severe conditions [sic] oxygen level is falling low. Not able to get a bed since yesterday. Kindly help us asap!” tweeted another.

Covid-19 positive patients are dying across India due to a shortage of hospital beds, according to recent reports.

Many hospitals across India have already reached capacity as New Delhi struggles to contain a devastating “second wave” driven by new, more contagious variants, with more than 160,000 new daily cases recorded on Sunday for the first time.

Over the last week, the Indian media has reported a growing number of incidents where the condition of a Covid-19 patient deteriorated, resulting in death, after they were unable to be admitted to already full hospitals.

These included Covid-19 positive patients under the age of 45 without comorbidities. On Saturday, a 33-year-old man in the southern state of Karnataka died after he was rejected admission into two private hospitals in the city of Bengaluru.

In the eastern state of Odisha, a 32-year old woman died on Sunday after three hospitals – two private and one government-run – refused her ventilator support as they had no free machines.

“Ventilators at Ispat General Hospital and in hospitals with Covid treatment facilities in [the city of] Rourkela are fully occupied. Being young, my sister could have survived with critical care support but that was not available,” the victim’s brother, Ramiz Raja, told the New Indian Express.

The situation is particularly grave in the western state of Maharashtra which alone reported over 63,000 new cases on Sunday, more than the United States and the United Kingdom combined. The availability of oxygen, ventilator, and ICU beds varies between three and 18 per cent in eight major cities in Maharashtra, including Mumbai and Pune, according to a central government fact-finding mission.

On Thursday, the city of Nagpur had only three ventilator beds left while shocking footage was shared from Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai, a leading private facility, which shows Covid-19 positive patients being treated in the lobby due to their large number.

Maharashtra is expected to implement a 15-day lockdown from Tuesday, the first strict state-wide lockdown since last June, in an attempt to slow the surge in cases. Other states, including Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab have introduced night curfews.

The Indian Government, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is coming under major scrutiny for not upgrading India’s beleaguered public health infrastructure as admission delays were also reported during the country’s first peak in September.

Maharashtra has announced it will construct three new jumbo hospitals over the next few weeks, providing 6,000 more beds, in a race to upgrade hospital capacity in the city.

While the authorities are blaming India’s second wave on a failure by citizens to adhere to social distancing measures, there is increasing evidence to suggest that the spread of new, more contagious variants may be responsible.

In Maharashtra, a new “double mutant” has been detected in 20 per cent of cases, which contains variations studies show to be both more contagious and able to re-infect patients.

The UK variant – which is up to 70 per cent more contagious – is widespread in Punjab, while cases of the South African and Brazilian strains have also been reported in India.

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The Indian Government should prioritise scaling up Covid-19 genome sequencing, according to public health experts, to identify firstly which variants are most prevalent and then which are more contagious or deadly.

There is some good news for India, though, after a panel of experts granted emergency use authorisation to Sputnik V, a Russian-developed Covid-19 vaccine, on Monday.

One-in-five eligible Indians were unable to source a vaccine dose in April due to manufacturing and supply shortages, according to a survey of 24,000 people by Local Circles, a community social media platform, and only 11 million out of its 1.38 billion citizens have received two doses so far.

If the Drugs Controller General of India gives final permission as expected, 500 million doses of Sputnik V will be manufactured annually in India by three pharmaceutical companies, with the extra supply potentially permitting New Delhi to open up vaccinations to all of its citizens over the age of 18.

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