Aligarh: It all started about 15 days ago, say doctors at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College (JNMC), the medical facility of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
As Covid numbers surged across India, a large number of professors began to arrive at the hospital for admission. Most were in a moderate to severe condition and their situation deteriorated fast, the doctors who treated them told ThePrint. Many died.
Nearly 60 per cent of those who died were above the age of 50, while the rest were in the 30-40-year age group, the doctors said. “There were some with comorbidities and some completely healthy… we couldn’t understand what was going on, but we had to do our best to save them,” said Dr Mohd Kashaf, a resident doctor at JNMC.
“So we were provided with the best of infrastructure, ICU beds, proper treatment, but they could not make it,” he added.
In these 15 days, 18 professors died. If that was not bad enough, there’s fresh panic because the AMU Vice-Chancellor wants the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to investigate if a “new strain” of the coronavirus could be driving the spate of deaths.
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From April 2020 to April 2021, Aligarh had reported 11,500 confirmed Covid-19 cases. There have been over 7,000 in the days since, taking the total to 18,629 as of 9 May.
Just how bad things are in Aligarh amid the second wave can be gauged from two numbers. Between April 2020 and April 2021, the district recorded 58 deaths. In the month since, there have been 20.
However, this is just official data. Residents claim the situation is much worse.
The loss has been particularly acute for AMU, which claims to have lost 18 professors to Covid in the past three weeks. Many others are believed to be Covid positive, including some who are critical and currently admitted in hospital.
The JNMC said in a statement Monday that 15 of the 18 deaths were due to “suspected Covid-19”, but three have been due to other reasons. Out of the 15, four deaths occurred outside Aligarh, it added.
The professors, say campus sources, are not the only ones affected. Last week, the burial site inside the AMU campus saw 29 funerals in a day. It has been seeing 7-8 burials almost everyday, most of which involve Covid deaths, the sources add.
Said Former AMU student union president Mazin, “I myself have attended 70 funerals in the last 10 days or so and there must be so many others like me who are attending multiple funerals. The burial ground on AMU campus is almost full.”
Mazin is the founder of the campus coordination committee, which has been working along with JNMC staff and doctors to arrange oxygen for critical patients on a daily basis.
The number of burials, Mazin added, is alarming. “Some deaths are definitely non-Covid but majority are Covid deaths and that’s just here on the AMU campus, we have no numbers for what’s happening outside,” he said.
Not just professors, many members of their families have perished to the virus. The toll includes five family members of Prof. Ahsanulla Fahad, who passed away due to Covid, and the brother and mother of Prof. Heena Ansari of the pathology department, who is in a critical condition.
“I lost my brother-in-law, father, mother and sister… all in a matter of two-three days. The situation has been beyond comprehensible… I am at a loss for words. I don’t know who to blame for my loss,” said a professor’s son who did not wish to disclose his identity.
The numbers and picture that emerge from within the AMU, however, stand in contrast to those presented by the Aligarh district administration, which says Covid fatalities are limited to 3-4 a day.
“The Covid fatality percentage in Aligarh is not very alarming. What is happening inside the AMU campus, I cannot account for… but outside the numbers look under control. There are max 3-4 Covid deaths on a daily basis in Aligarh,” said Aligarh Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Bhanu Pratap.
Aligarh District Magistrate Chandra Bhushan Singh, who was himself down with the virus, said he does not believe the numbers are alarming in all of Aligarh. “The Covid situation is not alarming in all of Aligarh, we have managed to control things,” he told ThePrint over the phone.
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Panic in the neighbourhood
The assault of Covid has taken a personal toll on Vice-Chancellor Tariq Mansoor, whose brother died of the disease last month. Alarmed by the spate of deaths, he shot off a letter Sunday to the ICMR, asking them to study virus samples from the campus, to see if a more virulent strain is affecting the areas around the university.
The letter has stoked some panic in residents of areas around the AMU, which is located in Aligarh’s Civil Lines.
Jaseem Mohammad Khan, former AMU Public Relations Officer (PRO) who lives in an area adjacent to the campus, said he has “received at least 50 calls from people living in the nearby areas”.
“All are in panic and want to know whether they should continue to live in the area or shift somewhere else. I think the AMU administration should have been more sensitive to the times and not disclosed the fact that they are demanding such a study,” he added. “Even if they did, they should not have made the names of the areas public.”
Another resident who did not wish to be named said his family has been panicking ever since they read news about the letter Monday morning. “As if the mutant strain was not enough, are we now supposed to deal with an AMU strain?” he said.
Asked about the fears, Dr Kashaf said it “looks unlikely that there is a different strain on campus, but there should definitely be a study on why so many professors have died in a span of a fortnight”.
“Was it something to do with their comorbidities because of their sedentary lifestyle, or is it because they attended some international gathering? Whatever it is… it should be studied.”
Dr Khalaf Saba, another resident doctor, agreed. “It is highly unlikely that there is a separate strain that’s causing deaths on the AMU campus. The situation is bad in all of Aligarh and, in fact, all of Uttar Pradesh. It’s just that the numbers are not getting highlighted as much as the AMU numbers because it’s a university campus and things get attention.”
What university is doing for professors
On Monday, the AMU administration announced the setting up of a process that will make sure that the benefits enjoyed by teaching and non-teaching staff who died of Covid are provided to their families.
A section of students and professors on the campus allege that the administration’s reaction to the crisis is too little too late.
“When professors were dying on campus, the administration did not even bat an eyelid. When we started raising the issue of deaths on social media, the V-C sent out a letter to ICMR talking about a strain. The reality is that these deaths have happened because the university let its teachers die…they died of shortage of oxygen,” said Faizul Hasan, a PhD scholar at AMU and former student union president.
A faculty member in the department of medicine agreed. “The AMU administration has definitely woken up late. When the death numbers started piling up. People at JNMC have been complaining that there is a shortage of oxygen, they need Bi-PAP machines, oxygen cylinders, more beds, but the administration did not pay heed,” the faculty member added.
AMU PRO Omair Peerzada, however, said the administration did everything they could to save the patients and has been continuing to do so.
On 28 April, the V-C announced that the university is getting a new oxygen plant. “AMU is making all efforts to overcome oxygen shortage and augment production for patients of AMU Hospital. AMU is steadfast in its commitment to the nation in these critical times,” he said in a tweet at the time.
AMU is making all efforts to overcome oxygen shortage & augment production for patients of AMU Hospital. To bolster our capacity we will set up an oxygen generation plant costing Rs. 1.4 crore in coming weeks.
AMU is steadfast in its commitment to nation in these critical times. pic.twitter.com/M7bFGKneAV
— Tariq Mansoor (@ProfTariqManso1) April 27, 2021
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