New Delhi: August is in its infancy but it is already turning into a particularly harsh month for India’s political class. At least seven top politicians have tested positive for Covid-19 in just the first three days of the month, with Home Minister Amit Shah being the most high-profile of the lot.
Shah’s positive test, however, has brought the spotlight on a vital aspect of the Covid-19 fight — public healthcare. Shah has been admitted at the Medanta Hospital, a private-run hospital in Gurugram, a decision that has provided his detractors with enough ammunition to attack him.
Take, for instance, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. He tweeted Monday wondering why the home minister chose not to go to AIIMS but to a private facility in a neighbouring state.
True. Wonder why our Home Minister, when ill, chose not to go to AIIMS but to a private hospital in a neighbouring state. Public institutions need the patronage of the powerful if they are to inspire public confidence. https://t.co/HxVqdREura
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) August 3, 2020
That has been a recurring theme on social media, with a number of people wondering why Amit Shah stayed away from a government facility.
Why has Amit Shah been admitted to Medanta Hospital and AIIMS doctors also treating him? What happened to Gau Mutra and why is he not being treated by Patanjali and Ayush doctors for his #Covid_19?
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) August 2, 2020
— Samar Halarnkar (@samar11) August 3, 2020
Amit Shah – Medanta
Sonia Gandhi – SGRH
Satyendra Jain – Max Smart
Jyotiraditya Scindia – Max Smart
Shivraj Singh Chouhan – Chirayu Hospital
BS Yeddyurappa – Manipal Hospital
Sambit Patra – Medanta
+ Countless other VIP’s/ Doctors – All in Pvt
Need one say more ?@AnantBhan
— Dr Sumeet Shah (@DrSumeetShah) August 3, 2020
Shah, however, isn’t alone. Only a handful of politicians, it appears, really trust the country’s public healthcare system.
Around 20 ministers, both at the state and the Centre, have tested positive for Covid-19 so far but 17 of them chose private healthcare facilities over state-run hospitals.
Only the Uttar Pradesh Minister of Technical Education, Kamal Rani Varun, who was admitted at the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, and Uttarakhand Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj, admitted at AIIMS, Rishikesh, chose government-run facilities. Rani, however, succumbed to the virus Sunday.
The other minister, Maharashtra’s Aslam Sheikh, who handles the state’s Fisheries and Textiles portfolio, is in home quarantine.
Commenting on the trend, former secretary of health and family welfare, K. Sujatha Rao, said, “Ministers going to private hospitals for treatment isn’t new but it doesn’t send out a good message to the common man. If the home minister trusts a private hospital more, why is the AIIMS director being asked to abandon his own patients and travel 30 km to see him.
“Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh sought treatment at AIIMS,” she added. “They (politicians) must realise there are others who can’t afford that (private treatment) and they look at politicians to set an example.”
Madhya Pradesh BJP leader Dr Hitesh Bajpai defended high-profile politicians choosing the private sector for Covid treatment, saying that several factors come into play.
“Their security, proximity to airports and privacy are some of the factors that need to be kept in mind,” he said. “While it is essential that we understand the need to acknowledge the challenges that the public healthcare system faces, we need to also consider the requirements of VIP patients.”
‘Makes more sense for them to get treated in private hospitals’
Among the politicians having picked a private facility is the Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday evening. He is admitted at the Manipal Hospital in Bengaluru.
“Karnataka CM B.S. Yediyurappa has been admitted to the hospital for observation. He is doing well, is clinically stable and will be monitored closely by our team,” the Manipal Hospital said in a health bulletin Monday.
A senior official in the Karnataka Chief Minister’s Office defended the Yediyurappa’s being in a private hospital.
“First, as the head of the state, the CM is a man with a lot of responsibility on his head. As the people’s representative, he is also expected to be taken care of well, to ensure healthy administration,” the official said.
“Another important point is that as the CM, he would be accompanied by tight security. If admitted in a government hospital, which has been set up to make medical assistance more accessible to the underprivileged, the security and cordoning off of areas would cause a lot of inconvenience to people,” the official added.
Yediyurappa has now been joined by his predecessor, the Congress’ Siddaramaiah who Tuesday announced on Twitter that he had tested positive.
I have been tested positive for #Covid19 & also been admitted to the hospital on the advice of doctors as a precaution.
I request all those who had come in contact with me to check out for symptoms & to quarantine themselves.
— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah) August 4, 2020
Siddaramaiah has been admitted on the same floor as the chief minister in Manipal Hospital.
In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been admitted at the privately-owned Chirayu Medical College and Hospital. Cabinet Minister Arvind Bhadoria is also undergoing Covid-19 treatment at the same hospital.
Rajneesh Agrawal, BJP spokesperson in Madhya Pradesh, argued that both Chouhan and Bhadoria have been admitted in a dedicated Covid facility in Bhopal.
“Arvind Bhadoria has tested negative and we are expecting Shivraj ji to test negative as well,” he said. “Every city needs to have a dedicated Covid hospital. The Kamal Nath government did not appoint any but the BJP government has been proactive in appointing such hospitals. Chirayu hospital fulfils all the required conditions issued by the central government.”
Of the other BJP leaders in MP, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who tested positive on 9 June, was admitted to the Max Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi.
Hitesh Bajpai maintained that Scindia was in Delhi during the lockdown and hence was treated in the same city. “There is a protocol for everything. The chief medical health officer assesses the situation in the hospitals and then decides where the leader should be given treatment according to the severity of their symptoms,” he added.
Trend across country
It’s not just BJP leaders but politicians cutting across party lines who have flocked to private hospitals once they tested positive.
Delhi Health Minister Satyender Jain tested positive for Covid-19 and was admitted at the state-run Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital on 15 June. But he was shifted to Max Hospital, Saket, for plasma therapy.
Jain justified the move by claiming that it was his wife who got worried and wanted him to be shifted to a private hospital since the RGGHS didn’t have permission to conduct plasma therapy back then.
Punjab Congress’ Tript Singh Bajwa, the state minister for rural development, was admitted at Fortis Hospital, Chandigarh, in mid-July. His wife and son have also tested positive for Covid-19.
In Maharashtra, Jitendra Awhad, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) minister who holds the housing portfolio, was admitted to the Fortis Hospital in Mumbai after he tested positive in April.
Speaking to ThePrint, Awhad said, “The decision wasn’t mine. I was unconscious at the time. Honourable CM Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar saheb took the decision to admit me to Fortis Hospital. They called my wife and conveyed it to her.”
Awhad, who tested positive in the last week of April, said he wouldn’t have survived any other way. “I was very serious. I was put on a ventilator,” he said.
Maharashtra Social Justice Minister Dhananjay Munde was admitted at Breach Candy, a popular private hospital in Mumbai, on 12 June. He was discharged on 22 June after he recovered. Munde did not respond to calls or messages despite repeated attempts to contact him.
It is a similar story in Telangana, where Home Minister, the TRS leader Mahmood Ali, tested positive for Covid-19 in June and was admitted at the Apollo HospitaL in Hyderabad.
Across the border in Andhra Pradesh, deputy CM Amzath Basha, who tested positive on 14 July, was admitted to the Continental Hospital in Hyderabad.
Basha told ThePrint that for the first four days he was in home isolation, following which he was admitted at the government-run Sri Venkateswara Institute of Medical Sciences (SVIMS) in Tirupati on the advice of doctors.
He added that after both his wife and daughter also tested positive for Covid-19, he was advised to go to Hyderabad as his wife’s case was sensitive. “My wife had a surgery in January and because of her, we were asked to move to higher hospitals,” he said. The family was eventually admitted at the private Continental Hospital in Hyderabad.
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