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COVID-19: Patients Wait for Treatment as Maharashtra's Healthcare System Reels under Stress

Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra is witnessing a huge surge in the number of COVID-19 patients. It has badly affected health services.

Representational use only. Image Courtesy: Scroll

Seventy-five-year-old Ramchandra Kadam from Vikroli in Mumbai was admitted to Powai Hospital due to COVID-19. At midnight on April 14, his condition began worsening and he wanted to be shifted to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed. His son Ajay Kadam called the BMC's helpline numbers but failed to get a response. At 2 am the same night, Ajay and a friend drove from Vikroli to Andheri looking for an ICU bed. However, they could not find any. Finally, at 11 am on April 14, he was able to secure an ICU bed at a private hospital in Chembur after looking for 10 hours.

"Government hospitals were full. The BMC people called me but they were unable to arrange an ICU bed. Somehow one patient in a Chembur hospital was cured and shifted out of the ICU. I got that bed for my father. I now know how bad the situation is," Ajay told Newsclick.

There are hundreds of such examples in Mumbai, where people are resorting to every means possible to either get someone admitted to a hospital, an ICU or a ventilator bed, or for the drug Remdesivir, which has been in short supply. A second wave of COVID-19 has taken over Mumbai and Maharashtra, giving rise to tragic situations.

Senior health journalist Santosh Andhale called the second wave a "tsunami. Let me give you an example. At the peak of COVID-19 last year in September 2020, the oxygen demand for patients was recorded as 773 MT. But, on April 13, the same number was 1043 MT. This needs to be said however, we are still not at the peak of this wave. When we need so much oxygen for serious patients then we can imagine what the situation would be at its peak," he said.

Not just cities, the second wave has resulted in a huge spike in the number of patients from rural areas too. There were 51,751 COVID-19 cases on Monday and the number jumped to 60,212 on Tuesday. The number of deaths due to the virus were 254 on Tuesday; 27 in Mumbai. The numbers show that COVID-19 has penetrated deep into rural areas of the state with tremendous pressure on rural healthcare services.

"We are upgrading our services. Jumbo care units are being reopened and we are also appealing to social and charitable organisations to come forward to build infrastructure this time," said state health minister Rajesh Tope on the state of health infrastructure in rural Maharashtra.

After Mumbai, Pune is witness to the highest number of patients in state with patients struggling to find hospital beds.

Neha Shirke from Panvel in Raigad was in desperate need of Remdesivir, a drug which is being used to treat critical COVID-19 patients. Her mother had been admitted to a private hospital in Panvel. Shirke's brother had go to Dadar, where one of her relatives had stood in line for two hours, to get the medicine; its supply chain has almost collapsed in the state.

Last week, visuals from Ahmednagar in north Maharashtra and Beed in Marathwada had gone viral. The videos showed people waiting for ten to fifteen hours at crematoriums to perform last rites of their deceased relatives. In Ahmednagar's hospitals , patients are struggling to get admission. "Initially there was a bigger problem of Remdesivir but after the district collector centralised the system, it is now under control," said Anand Shitole, a social activist from the area.

"The major problem right now is that richer people have booked beds even though they are asymptomatic. Due to this, those that are really needy are not getting beds. If the government speeds up processes and opens treatment centres at the tehsil level then the issue could be resolved," he opined.

Smaller districts like Sindhudurg in the Konkan region or Bhandara in Vidarbha are also witnessing a higher number of patients. On Tuesday, the number of serious patients in Sindhudurga was 62; the total number of active cases were 1,566.

Sindhudurg's guardian minister Uday Samant said that a COVID centre will come up in Kudal city, which has the highest number of patients. "It is true that this time the number of patients in our district is higher. As the restrictions come in the cases will plateau in the first week and drop later. But right now, I accept that there is pressure on the administration," Samant told Newsclick.

The stricter restrictions are aimed at breaking the chain of the virus. They will come into force on midnight, April 15, and will last for another 15 days. The people of Maharashtra hope it will be enought to get the virus under control.

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