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Gorakhpur & Prayagraj: As a battered health system creaks, people left high & dry

According to the government data, Gorakhpur’s active caseload was 9,473 on Wednesday. In 24 hours, 1,045 new cases and 11 deaths were reported from the district, taking the toll to 430.

Asked if she managed to get a ventilator bed for her father, 21-year-old Gorakhpur resident Shiksha Singh broke down, paused and, after gathering herself, said, “That request is closed, sir. My father died last night around 4 am. We tried a lot for a ventilator, called up several private and government hospitals but we could not arrange a ventilator bed for him, resulting in his death.”

According to Shiksha, her father got medical oxygen quite late. “We managed to get him admitted to New Lotus Hospital, but we couldn’t do enough to save him. He tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday, and since morning his oxygen levels started dipping,” she added before hanging up.

Like Shiksha, there are numerous people in the state waiting to get their hands on medical oxygen, hospital beds, ventilators, and medicines for their loved ones suffering from Covid-19. Several people The Indian Express spoke to on Tuesday and Wednesday said there was an acute oxygen shortage.

“Even if there is a hospital bed, the hospital staff is saying we will have to get oxygen on our own,” said a city resident.

An official who wished to remain anonymous said the crisis had caused the healthcare system to be stretched to its limit. “People are coming from neighbouring districts because Gorakhpur has better facilities in comparison. Currently, there is a real shortage of beds, and oxygen,” he added.

An employee of the outpatient department of Dignity Hospital in Gorakhpur said the facility was having to wait for hours to receive oxygen. The hospital has been functioning as a Covid treatment centre for the last 10 days. “Our vehicles are parked at several agencies, but there is no oxygen anywhere,” said Pradeep Yadav, the hospital staffer.

Asked if hospital beds were available, he added, “We have around 40 beds. All are occupied.”

According to the government data, Gorakhpur’s active caseload was 9,473 on Wednesday. In 24 hours, 1,045 new cases and 11 deaths were reported from the district, taking the toll to 430.

District Magistrate K Vijayendra Pandian and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Sudhakar Pandey were unavailable for comments.

The situation is equally dire in Prayagraj district. Gravedigger Kallu (50), who works at the Kala Dana burial ground for Muslims, said he buried his 22-year-old son Arif, who too used to work there.

“I don’t know if he had corona. We couldn’t get a test. He collapsed while digging a grave on Saturday, and two days later he left us. I have seen so many funerals in my life. But I never thought I would have to bury my own son. He was coming in contact with Covid bodies, and maybe had got Covid too. He had a fever,” Kallu added.

The graveyard committee’s president Mohammad Javed said he visited Arif after he took ill. “He was having issues breathing. We made some requests for tests and oxygen but before anything could happen, he died,” he added.

Javed said in the last three days the number of burials dropped compared to the week before. “In total, around 50 bodies were being buried in all seven graveyards in the district. Now, we are getting around 30 per day. In normal times, we get a total of 10 bodies per day in the whole district,” he told The Indian Express.

Prayagraj-based activist Utpala Shukla, who has started a WhatsApp group to help people in the district, said the challenges in the second wave were impossible to overcome compared to last year. “Last year, during the lockdown, we used to get requests for food, ration, necessities, basic medicines etc. This year, the requests are for medical oxygen, hospital beds, ventilators. We are finding it very difficult to manage these requests and even though we have more than 200 volunteers, most of the requests are going unmet because there is a major crunch for resources to treat Covid,” Shukla added.

Another Prayagraj resident, Abhishek Kumar, saw his friend’s 55-year-old mother Shanti Devi succumb to Covid on Tuesday morning despite their best efforts to get her treated. A distraught Kumar said, “We tried everywhere. I never thought that she would die because she would not get a hospital bed. My friend and I tried everything. The helpline numbers are absolutely useless. We felt so helpless. They are either busy or they keep us on hold. We called the CMO, and he said that we should call the helpline number and hung up. And around 4 am on Tuesday, she died. We tried for a bed and oxygen everywhere but to no avail.”

The state health bulletin released on Wednesday reported that Prayagraj’s patient count was up to 15,001 after 1,261 new cases were reported. The district has registered 635 deaths till now.

District Magistrate Bhanu Chandra Goswami and CMO Prabhakar Rai were unavailable for comments.

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