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Gasping Covid patients on floor with the dead, doctors at breaking point in east UP hospitals

With just 1,400 hospital beds between them, East UP rural districts Ballia and Ghaizpur are struggling with a caseload of nearly 10,000 active cases.

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Ballia/Ghazipur: Critical Covid patients gasping for breath, their families fighting for medical attention, bodies of those who didn’t make it lying unattended and doctors who are overburdened, frustrated and near breaking point — the scenes at the emergency rooms at two district hospitals in East Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia and Ghazipur districts are nearly identical.

Ghazipur and Ballia, rural districts with populations of approximately 36 lakh and 32 lakh respectively, according to the 2011 Census, are facing a complete health infrastructure collapse as an increasing number of Covid symptomatic patients from the rural areas flood emergency wards of the hospitals.

District health data accessed by ThePrint revealed that Ghazipur and Ballia were testing about 2,000 and 2,832 people, respectively, daily for Covid, in April. This, said Dr Ashok Rai, president of the Indian Medical Association, UP, is a very low target for districts with such huge populations.

According to the state health bulletin, Ballia reported 3,995 and Ghaizpur 5,439 active cases on 1 May. For an infected population that’s so large, the districts have only 255 and 900 hospital beds, respectively, according to the district health administration.

Impatient family members of patients surround the medical staff, clamouring for attention for the patients | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint
Impatient family members of patients surround the lone doctor at the Ghazipur district hospital, clamouring for attention for the patients | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint

On the afternoon of 27 April, when ThePrint visited the Ballia district hospital, helpless cries of pain filled the air. Not a single doctor was in attendance as more than 20 patients lay on the floor, struggling to breathe.

Thirty-five-year-old Sarita Devi’s husband held her hand tightly, as other members of her family returned exhausted from a failed search to locate a doctor for her. Sarita’s oxygen level was down to 40.

Close by, another critical patient, Lali, was crawling on the floor, breathless and dazed by the pain in her chest.

A man, who seemed to have been in his late forties, lay dead on a stretcher. His blue slippers had fallen off his feet. If anyone had accompanied him to the hospital, they seemed to have long left; ThePrint was unable to locate his family even after searching for half an hour.

Ninety kilometres away, the scene at Ghazipur’s district hospital was strikingly similar.

A steady stream of patients came — on bikes, bullock carts, e-rickshaws — from places as far as 40 kilometres away. But the 20 ftX25 ft emergency ward at the hospital had little comfort to offer them.

Around 3pm Friday, the lone doctor attending to patients in the ward told ThePrint, “This is now a war room. The virus is attacking from all sides. Consider every person in this room as Covid positive. We are going to lose our minds soon.”

Patients at the Ballia district hospital | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint
Patients at the Ballia district hospital | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint

Adding to the burden on healthcare services were people coming in after being injured in street fights and property disputes, which, said doctors, are common in the area.

Both districts also voted in panchayat polls — Ghazipur in the fourth phase on 29 April and Ballia in the third phase on 25 April. The polls also resulted in more village fights between opposing party supporters.

“Disputes always increase, whenever there are local body elections. People consider this as moonch ka Sawal (a matter of honour),” said Ghazipur chief medical officer, Dr J.C. Mourya.

And without patient wards closed in hospitals across the districts owing to the pandemic, the emergency wards have had to handle the additional pressure of the injured.

Also read: Max doctor on Covid duty found hanging at Delhi home, ‘suicide note mentions no trigger’ 

Districts on the brink of collapse

At the district hospital in Ghazipur, acute chest pain and breathlessness was making it difficult for 65-five-year Ramati to sit up. Standing in a corner of the hospital, her elder son Gunjan Paswan told ThePrint, “I drove 25 kilometres on a bike to reach the emergency ward as her health deteriorated overnight. I had no other option. Even if she is Covid positive, we can’t simply let her die.”

Every few minutes, Paswan would plead with a doctor to take a look at his mother, but the physician was surrounded by equally-desperate family members of other patients.

Some distance away, 84-year-old Kamlapati Rai was sharing his oxygen with two other patients. A member of his family said they had been waiting at the hospital for four hours. “They are saying we can give you a bed in the isolation ward, but we will have to arrange oxygen for him. What use is the bed then?” he said.

The ward had only six makeshift beds, with one compounder and one doctor in attendance. Two people manned the reception desk. Waiting for treatment were about a 100 people.

As the crowd kept growing every hour, impatient family members got into fights with the medical staff.

Kab see kah rahe hain ki dekh lo, mar jayenge to dekhenge? Kisliye emergency ward likha hai? Maut ka ward likh dijiye isey. [We have been pleading for ages that take a look at our patient, will you check him after he is dead. This is not an emergency ward, it’s a death ward],” shouted one person.

Outside the ward, four patients were lying in the corridor, their conditions critical.

“These are the unlucky ones who could not even make it to the emergency ward floor,” said a person accompanying a patient.

Also read: She was 8 months pregnant, was ‘forced’ into UP poll duty that killed ‘135 teachers’

Community disputes continue

Back at Ballia district hospital, a doctor finally arrived.

As he started noting down symptoms, age and other details of the waiting patients, there is visible anger and frustration on his face. He lashed out against a young man, who had come to the emergency ward after getting injured in a property dispute.

This was the fifth such patient that day.

“They are fighting even at the peak of a pandemic. There are people dying on the roads, but their property disputes are so important that they want us to treat them and let the Covid patients die,” the doctor told ThePrint.

Ghazipur Chief Medical Officer Dr J.C. Mourya said he had been receiving similar phone calls. When ThePrint met him Friday, he was answering one such call. “Dekhiye, mahamari faili hai, aap ye ladai jhagda ghar suljhayen, emergency ward mein pair rakhne ki jagah nhin hai, yahan patti nhin hogi (There is a pandemic. Please sort out your differences at home. There is no space to step in the emergency ward. We can’t treat patients with injuries now),” he said.

At the emergency ward at Ghazipur’s district hospital, the doctor sent an injured patient away after 30 minutes, untreated. In that time, the number of critically ill Covid patients in the hospital had gone up.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: 11 top doctors handpicked by Uddhav Thackeray have led Maharashtra’s Covid war for a year


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