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Bengaluru grave digger buried Covid dead for months, was buried today after not getting O2 bed

Bengaluru residents claim lack of government beds even as BBMP shows bed availability. CM Yediyurappa has asked patients to not ‘over-stay’ in hospitals.

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Bengaluru: Shahulla Khan ensured dignified last rites for people in Bengaluru when the first Covid wave struck last year. The 45-year-old funeral service worker helped people out in the time of crisis. But early Thursday, after waiting for an oxygen bed for days, he couldn’t find the help that he so needed, and succumbed to Covid-19 himself.

According to Khan’s family, they had been sending SOS calls to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) since 21 April, seeking a bed for him when he fell ill.

While his saturation levels kept dropping and he was maintained on oxygen support at home, his family claims their pleas for a bed fell on deaf ears as the BBMP did not respond.

When ThePrint visited Khan’s house in the compound of the Muslim Burial Ground on Mysore Road Wednesday, he was lying on the bed at the entrance with oxygen support.

His family had already been struggling to procure cylinders for him every day but as his condition deteriorated Wednesday, they made rounds of some hospitals, unsuccessfully. They made frantic calls too to get him admitted to a hospital, but to no avail.

“He has been unwell for the past couple of days. We have been struggling to find a bed since 21 April. We reached out to BBMP too but they said there are no government beds available and we couldn’t afford expensive private hospitals,” his wife Ayesha Khanum said in the middle of the search.

“We even visited the nearby triage facility that has opened up but they said he will require a hospital bed and can’t be kept there,” she added.

Khanum said till he was fine, he used to help in burying Covid infected bodies. But when he became sick himself, no one came forward to help.

Khaleel Khan, a relative of Khan, said, “We tried several hospitals from 3 pm onwards but all of them refused and finally we forced ourselves into Victoria hospital and got a bed at 12 am. He was feeling very unwell and told the family members not to leave. He was able to talk till 2 am and at 5 am he died.”

Khanum said, “We could have saved him if we had got a bed in time.”

ThePrint reached Health, Family Welfare and Medical Education Minister K. Sudhakar for a comment on lack of government beds in Bengaluru via calls and texts but there was no response till the publishing of this report.

Also read: Bengaluru residents go 80 km for Covid shot as medical hub just doesn’t have enough vaccines

Crisis of beds availability

Shahulla Khan’s is not an isolated case. There are several like him in Bengaluru who are dying waiting for a bed as Covid continues to wreak havoc.

But while residents claim a shortage of oxygenated beds, ICU and ventilator facilities, BBMP says a total of 11,693 beds have been earmarked for Covid. Its bed allocation tracker shows 9,514 beds are occupied while 2,179 are available.

Even as the government claims the availability of beds in public hospitals, 52-year-old Shaheeda Khatoon, who has been sick for the past three weeks, hasn’t been able to find one.

“We had got her treated in a private hospital initially as we were unable to get any help with a government hospital. We had done the registration as was required but no one seems to bother. After a while we could not afford to pay and the hospital told us to take her back,” said Khatoon’s daughter Ruhi.

Khatoon’s husband Mohammed Sadiq said while her oxygen levels have been dropping, they are finding it difficult to refill the cylinders too.

“My son had gone out to refill the cylinder and the police didn’t allow him at first. He had to literally beg. If you can, help us please get our cylinder refilled,” said Sadiq, who is a commercial driver but has not been able to earn since the lockdown was imposed.

Mohammad Sadiq and his wife Shaheeda Khatoon at their house with oxygen cylinder. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
Mohammad Sadiq and his wife Shaheeda Khatoon at their house. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

Other residents also claim that beds in government hospitals aren’t available and they have no option but to go for private hospitals which are also facing shortage and are expensive.

Tanvi, a resident of Sadashiva Nagar in Bengaluru, said one of her uncles contracted Covid at a vaccination centre. Although he had no comorbidities, his oxygen started falling.

“We started looking for an oxygen bed and called 1912. More than 5-6 family members called in it but none of them were able to get through. Finally I managed and registered. They said they will call back and a bed will be allocated but no one did,” she said.

Selva Priya had a similar story to share about her father Ramalingam R. “We were unable to get an oxygen bed through BBMP but after trying through other means we managed to get my father, admitted to a private hospital. But his condition has become quite critical and we need an ICU bed now which is not available. We have been trying for over three days.”

Also read: TN & Andhra SOS to PM, Kerala’s surplus stock over — Oxygen shortage now hits South India

‘My father died in my arms’

Phurspol L. Wefley lost his father on 10 May, after unsuccessfully searching for an oxygen bed for eight days.

“There are no beds, no oxygen and people are dying. People are not supposed to run around for these essential things, it is the government which is supposed to provide basic healthcare. My dad was an 84-year-old and he could not fight after a while… he died in my arms,” Wefley told ThePrint.

On Tuesday, Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa asked Covid patients who have been “over-staying in hospitals unnecessarily” to go home and make way for serious patients. He said there were 503 patients in the hospitals for 20 days.

On Wednesday, Karnataka went past Maharashtra to become India’s worst-hit state, with 5.92 lakh active cases. On 12 May, Karnataka reported 39,998 fresh cases, including 16,286 cases in Bengaluru alone.

Aashik Gowda, state secretary for Karnataka Youth Congress, said his unit has been getting over 10-15 requests every day for oxygen beds, ICU beds.

“Apart from social media we get a lot of direct calls too. We try our best to help as many people as possible but even that is not enough. The government has stopped vaccination now for ages 18-44 in government hospitals… There are no beds, where should the common people go,” said Gowda.

Also read: Modi govt expects second Covid wave surge to come down ‘sharply’ by July


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