A patient in an ambulance just outside the Durg Civil Hospital in Chhattisgarh | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint
A patient in an ambulance just outside the Durg Civil Hospital in Chhattisgarh | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint
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Durg (Chhattisgarh): Shankar Lal Srinivas never even made it into the Durg Civil Hospital in Chhattisgarh Thursday. 

Minutes after he was brought here, the 42-year-old quietly succumbed to Covid at the hospital doorstep even as he waited for oxygen. 

Beside him, his 82-year-old father Lakhan Lal Srinivas struggled to comprehend the turn of events even as an ambulance driver D. Raju tried to catch the attention of hospital staff. 

“We just brought him in from Lal Bahadur Shastri Civil Hospital, barely 10-15 minutes ago,” D. Raju said. “If they had given him oxygen, he would have been saved. The doctors didn’t pay any attention to him.”

According to his father, Shankar has been experiencing breathing trouble. “He had difficulty breathing for the last three days,” Lakhan said. “Today we went to Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital and they referred us here because there were no beds and now he has died while waiting for a bed.”

A similar story is playing out across the district and the state, one of the worst affected by the Covid-19 second wave in the country. 

Take the Durg Civil Hospital for instance. Around noon Thursday, there were long queues outside the testing centre, patients being given oxygen inside ambulances while scores more arrived gasping in ambulances, autos and private vehicles. 

A little distance away, bodies were being piled into hearse vans, illustrating the deadly turn that the pandemic has taken in the state.   

82-year-old Lakhan Lal Srinivas, whose son Shankar Lal Srinivas succumbed to Covid-19 Thursday | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint
82-year-old Lakhan Lal Srinivas, whose son Shankar Lal Srinivas succumbed to Covid-19 Thursday | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint

Durg in distress

Durg is the second worst affected district in the state — it has recorded a total of 62,166 cases, 1,054 deaths and 40,126 recoveries as of 15 April. 

As of 15 April, Durg also had 20,986 of the total 1,21,769 active cases in Chhattisgarh, behind Raipur at 25,394. According to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare data, it is also among the top 15 high caseload districts in the country. 

Despite a statewide lockdown that was imposed on 6 April, there has been no decrease in cases. Chhattisgarh government data reveals that daily cases in Durg have almost doubled in April alone, climbing from 996 on 1 April to 1,778 on 15 April.

In the past month, Durg has seen a massive spike in both cases as well as deaths. While daily cases stood at 154 in Durg on 15 March, that number increased to 1,778 on 15 April. While the overall death toll in the district stood at 653 on 15 March, it almost doubled to 1,054 on 15 April.

Shortage of beds

The spike is reflecting in the long queues for hospital beds and resultant deaths in Durg. 

Government data on the Durg district website reveals that there are no ventilator beds available across 23 private, four government hospitals and three Covid-19 care centres. According to the website, while the district has a total of 1,716 beds across these facilities, only 146 are now unoccupied.  

As a result, Durg Civil Hospital, the largest in the district, is seeing a large influx of patients from nearby villages. 

“I have tried four private hospitals to get  my neighbour admitted but I still haven’t found a bed,” said Mohammad Naseem, a college student who had come from 20 km away. 

“There are no beds available anywhere. I have called all private hospitals possible but my sister and her husband haven’t been able to find beds. Now we are planning to go to Raipur,” said Pawan Dharai outside S.R. Hospital, a private hospital in Durg.

According to Chhattisgarh government data, however, Covid-19 beds, including ICU beds and ventilators have been ramped up since 20 March. 

The data states that while there were 60 hospitals providing Covid-19 treatment on 20 March, that number has been ramped up to 170 as of 16 April.

While there were 2,035 Covid-19 beds, 477 ICU beds and 166 ventilators in the state on 16 March, there are now 6,912 beds, 1,836 ICU beds and 510 ventilators. 

Speaking to ThePrint, Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo admitted that there was still a shortage in ICU beds. “The major shortage is in ICU beds and we have very little scope to do something immediately. The crisis is also because of patients wanting to go to particular hospitals whether it is AIIMS in Raipur or the BRAM (Bhim Rao Ambedkar Memorial) Hospital,” the minister said. “Half the state’s ICU beds are in just Raipur. That is the big problem and we are trying to get sanction for 1,000 more ICU beds. But we are 20-30 days behind what is required today.”


Also read: Raipur has run out of hearse vans as Covid toll rises, hospitals sending out bodies in trucks


‘No one goes back alive from this hospital’

With private hospitals full, patients are left with no choice but to head to the Durg Civil Hospital. 

Around 2 pm Thursday, ThePrint witnessed a commotion at the hospital after a hearse van rolled in and hospital workers in PPE suits started loading multiple bodies onto the van. 

Patients’ families milled around to check if their relatives were among the dead and began accusing the hospital of not ensuring adequate medical attention.

“Patients who get admitted here will not go back alive,” said one of the screaming family members. 

“My sister died at 6 pm last evening (Wednesday) but they still haven’t given her body. I have been waiting for the body since 9 am,” said an employee in the district administration who did not wish to be named. “When I got her admitted on the 7th, there wasn’t a nurse around inside to help her. I had to assist her and now she has died.” 

Patients at the Durg Civil Hospital | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint
Patients at the Durg Civil Hospital | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint

Unprecedented health emergency

Despite the spiralling situation, authorities said that they are doing their best. 

“These are not the first deaths here. Scores of patients are dying in this hospital everyday. This is the first time that both the government and the people are dealing with such a health emergency,” said Neelmani Dubey, additional tehsildar, Durg. 

“We have already added 700 beds in government hospitals and we are also roping in private hospitals to increase Covid beds,” said Dr Gambhir Singh Thakur, chief medical officer, Durg. “We are also going to hold a meeting with non-Covid private hospitals to start taking in Covid bodies to help ease the pressure.” 

Testing is also a concern with negative rapid antigen tests adding to the chaos in Durg. 

Patients said that while they got negative results from rapid antigen tests done, breathing difficulties have soon surfaced. 

“My brother’s oxygen levels dropped to 60, so I had to come from my village which is 20 km away from Durg,” said a patient’s family member who did not want to be named. “He had an antigen test done three days ago but it was negative. There are no RT PCR tests in my village so I had to come here to get him oxygen.” 

Officials that ThePrint spoke to said that the high burden on the civil hospital in Durg is being eased by sending samples to Raipur. 

“We know RT PCR is taking time and antigen testing is not showing accurate results. We had to stop testing in some areas to divert resources from low to high burden areas,” Thakur said. “Now we have allotted a few lab technicians who will take samples from Durg to AIIMS, Raipur, to ease the load.”

District officials also said that they are doing their best to deal with this unprecedented health emergency. “None of us have experienced this before but we are still trying to increase beds and capacity and deal with it the best we can,” Dubey said.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)


Also read: ‘Dead bodies all over’: Lucknow funerals tell a story starkly different from UP govt’s claims


 

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