Sudarshan Patade was searching for Remdesivir injection in Mumbai from Friday to Saturday afternoon (April 16-17). His brother Ankush had tested COVID-19 positive and is currently admitted in a private hospital in Goregaon, a suburb in Western Mumbai. Somehow his cousin from Ghatkopar managed it on Saturday afternoon.
"This is very painful. I tried calling all phone lines given by the state government. All were engaged. Finally my cousin somehow managed it (the medicine) from a friend with political connections,” an emotionally wrought Sudarshan told NewsClick.
This is the story of Mumbai, India's financial capital – where thousands of people are being forced to scramble for Remdesivir, an anti-viral drug which has emerged as crucial in the treatment of COVID-19 patients, especially among those who have been severely affected. If the situation has worsened to such an extent in the capital of Maharashtra, one can only imagine what must be happening across the state, particularly in the rural areas.
Another patient, Atmaram Dahifale from Nasik is admitted in the city's private hospital for COVID-19 treatment. He was prescribed Remdesivir on Friday evening, which his daughter began searching for immediately. However, she said that she had not found the drug till Saturday 4 PM.
A look through the social media pages of almost everyone from Maharashtra reveals a sad state of affairs, one can find at least one message of help requiring either Remdesivir or oxygen.
The state currently requires 1,300 MT oxygen on a daily basis, as per official sources. The demand is all set to increase upto 2,000 MT by the end of April, as estimated by the task force for COVID-19 in Maharashtra. Meanwhile, hundreds of hospitals are already running out of oxygen.
Mangesh Chivate looks after the state's biggest medical help call centre from Thane, run by Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde. Chivate has set up a call centre and help centre in Thane city and working through Shiv Sena cadre in the state. He said that for the last three days, the demand for oxygen has surpassed all other demands.
"We are constantly getting calls for oxygen, maybe more than 100 calls per hour. We are running the centre 24X7. You can imagine the extent of the shortage of oxygen. I do not want people to get scared but many hospitals are somehow managing their oxygen demands. There is unprecedented pressure on us," he said.
Purva Deshpande from Seawoods, Navi Mumbai, is one among thousands of people in Maharashtra who have been running from pillar to post for oxygen for their relatives. She said that her mother is in hospital and needs oxygen. She has somehow managed to get it in Belapur's private hospital.
However, there are several who have perished due to the lack of oxygen. In Thane district’s Mira Bhayandar city, 10 patients have reportedly lost their lives due to the scarcity of oxygen supply on April 15. In Vidarbha district’s Gondia, 15 persons reportedly lost their lives due to lack of oxygen on April 16.
The incidents mentioned above show only the surface of the complicated situation in Maharashtra, where the COVID-19 situation is rapidly worsening.
Also read: COVID Situation in Delhi 'Very Serious’, Shortage of Oxygen, Remdesivir: Kejriwal
Amid this, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government at the state and the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre seem to be involved in a power tussle over the supply of critical resources to tackle the situation. Initially, the two ruling powers sparred over the lack of supply of vaccines against COVID-19. Now, the debate has moved on to Remdesivir and oxygen.
According to the Chief Minister’s Office in Maharashtra, the central government has allowed the state to take oxygen from the industries in the Northeastern states of the country. However, addressing a press conference on April 13, CM Uddhav Thackeray highlighted the difficulties involved in acquiring the oxygen by road from the far-off states. He also said that he has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding air transportation of oxygen using air force planes.
However, the situation did not change or improve since then, following which the CM reportedly called the PM’s office on April 17. As per sources in the CMO, they were told that the PM is busy in Bengal and respond to the Maharashtra CM afterwards. However, there has been no response till 4:30 PM on Saturday, according to the sources.
When the news about the CM Thackeray’s call came out, Union Railway Minister Peeyush
Goyal took to Twitter and claimed that Thackeray is doing petty politics. He wrote, "Saddened to see @OfficeOfUT’s gimmicks on oxygen. GoI, with all stakeholders, is ensuring maximum oxygen production in India. We are currently producing 110% of Oxygen generating capacity and diverting all available Oxygen from industrial use to medical use. Maharashtra has so far received the highest quantity of Oxygen in India.”
He went on to add, “Centre is in daily touch with State Governments to assess their needs & help them in best possible manner. Just yesterday, PM in his review told that centre & states should work with synergy in this crisis. With this background, shocked and saddened to see petty politics being played by @OfficeOfUT. He needs to stop his daily dose of shameless politics and take responsibility. Maharashtra is suffering from an inept & corrupt government & the Centre is doing its best for the people. People of Maharashtra are following ‘Majha Kutumb, Majhi Javabadari’ (My family, my responsibility) dutifully. It is time the CM also follows his duties in the spirit of ‘Majha Rajya, Majhi Javabadari (My state, my responsibility)."
However, the minister interestingly failed to answer the one question put forward by the Maharashtra government, that whether the central government will provide help for air transport of oxygen from NE states?
Another controversy also broke out on Saturday over the supply of Remdesivir, when Maharashtra's cabinet minister Nawab Malik took to Twitter alleging that Modi-led central government is trying to choke Maharashtra’s supply of injections. He wrote, "It is sad & shocking that when Government of Maharashtra asked the 16 export companies for #Remdesivir, we were told that Central Government has asked them not to supply the medicine to #Maharashtra.”
He added, “These companies were warned, if they did, their license will be cancelled. This is a dangerous precedent and under these circumstances, Maharashtra Government will have no choice but to seize the stock of Remdesivir from these exporters and supply it to the needy."
This shocking revelation by none other than a cabinet minister of the state was swiftly followed by central ministers denying all such allegations on the micro-blogging site. Union Minister for Fertilisers and Chemicals Mansukh Mandviya alleged the Nawab Malik of “spreading half truths and lies”, and added that there are no such attempts to choke medicine supply.
Meanwhile, in this political mudslinging, it is the people whose kin or friends are admitted in the hospitals who have been reduced to victims. While claims and counter claims continue, no government seems to be ready to take responsibility of the massive failure to deal with COVID-19 situation in the state.