When pipes carrying oxygen to critically ill Covid-19 patients stopped working at a hospital in Karnataka, southern India on Sunday evening, relatives of sick patients used towels to ventilate their loved ones in order to save them.
Some distraught family members have sent desperate calls for oxygen on social media. Others grabbed their phones and frantically called local politicians. A few even sprinted down the halls of the hospital, desperately looking for a doctor, nurse, anyone to help them.
But nothing worked. There was no more oxygen.
“Everyone was helpless,” said Rani, who bears a name, and whose husband Sureendra, 29, was among several Covid-19 patients who have died because vital oxygen was suddenly depleted. “I want to kill myself. What am I going to do without my husband now?”
Local officials have provided various accounts of the death toll at the hospital. Some said at least 10 died from oxygen deprivation. Others said 14 others died after the crash, but died from Covid-related comorbidities, not directly from lack of oxygen.
The officials have been clear, however; the oxygen was depleted.
“The deaths occurred between Sunday and Monday morning, but we cannot say that all of them died from lack of oxygen,” said Ravi, an official from Chamarajanagar, a town in southern Karnataka. “We are investigating the cause.”
What happened at the Chamarajanagar District Hospital in Karnataka on Sunday evening and Monday morning, after the oxygen went out, is the latest in a series of fatal accidents occurring across India as as the country battles a huge second wave of infections and demands for medical oxygen from afar. surpass the offer.
Last week, after an oxygen failure at a hospital in the Indian capital, New Delhi, 12 people died. The week before it was 20. On Monday, four sick people died in a hospital in Madhya Pradesh state in central India after family members said oxygen was there too. had exhausted himself, although the authorities denied this.
Doctors at dozens of Delhi hospitals have warned that they are also on the verge of dangerously exhausted and that continuing to wait for last-minute supplies to arrive is untenable. As the latest incident shows, in a hospital over a thousand kilometers from the capital, oxygen shortages have now spread across the country.
Other countries, from Mexico to Nigeria, have also faced oxygen shortages, and the World Health Organization estimated earlier this year that 500,000 people need medical oxygen every day.
But no country has seen as many desperate oxygen patients as in India right now, and fatal accidents, like what just happened in Karnataka, keep repeating themselves.
“It’s a failure of governance,” said Ritu Priya, professor at the Center for Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal University, New Delhi. “We haven’t been able to channel the oxygen delivery over the past year, which is what we should have done.”
“We live from an oxygen cylinder to an oxygen cylinder,” she said.
Medical oxygen has suddenly become one of India’s most precious resources, and its need will continue as the surge in coronavirus infections hardly abates.
On Monday, India’s Federal Ministry of Health reported 368,147 new cases and 3,417 deaths from the virus, a figure that remains low on the first day of the week. The Indian government says it has enough liquid oxygen to meet medical needs and is rapidly increasing its supply. He blames logistical problems for oxygen shortages, but many doctors and sick people question that.
As people continue to die from lack of oxygen, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the local government of Delhi, the epicenter of the oxygen crisis, are fighting in court.
A New Delhi court on Saturday warned the federal government it would face contempt charges if it did not maintain a steady flow of oxygen to hospitals in New Delhi, whose government is led by a party. opposition.
“The water has passed our heads,” a judge told the court. “Enough is enough. You made an oxygen allowance in Delhi, you are filling it.
Federal government officials told the court on Sunday that its officials were working hard to deal with crises and that such an order would have a demoralizing effect on them.
“Not all the oxygen supplied to Delhi is either distributed and used wisely, which poses serious risks to the lives of Delhi residents,” lawyers representing the federal government told the court.
India has received aid from other countries, and many have airlifted oxygen generators, including France, which delivered eight oxygen production plants on Sunday, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. . The country also received six planes loaded with equipment and supplies, including materials for coronavirus vaccines from the United States.
Complicating matters in India is that oxygen production facilities are concentrated mainly in its eastern parts, far from the worst outbreaks in Delhi and the western state of Maharashtra, requiring several days of road travel. .
In recent days, delays in transporting oxygen to hospitals in cities far from power plants have resulted in preventable deaths, experts have said. On Saturday, 12 patients, including a doctor, died when a New Delhi hospital ran out of oxygen for an hour, according to Sudhanshu Bankata, an official at the Batra hospital, where the deaths took place.
The same happened at the Jaipur Golden Hospital in New Delhi. Dr Deep Kumar Baluja, administrator of the hospital dedicated to Covid-19 patients, said his hospital receives daily oxygen supplies from suppliers. But on April 24, Dr Baluja said, those supplies did not arrive on time.
The 20 patients died “one after the other,” he said. “I have no words to express how I felt when patients died.”
Chamarajanagar District is a predominantly tribal and densely populated area of Karnataka state, which has recorded over 1.6 million cases of the virus and over 16,000 deaths. It is home to three tiger reserves and numerous wildlife sanctuaries and infections have increased there due to reluctance to vaccines and the relaxed attitude, a local official said.
Dr K. Sudhakar, Minister of Health of Karnataka, said that what happened at the Chamarajanagar district hospital was an “unfortunate incident”. He was going to the hospital to check the situation on the ground.
The investigation at the hospital is continuing. At 6:30 p.m. on Sunday evening, doctors and paramedics said they were out of oxygen and contacted everyone they could think of for help.
While the hospital had relief supplies, they ran out around 11 p.m., the hospital Authorities said their desperate pleas for more oxygen fell on deaf ears. Hospital officials said supplies of fresh oxygen were not delivered until about 9 am Monday morning.
Officials from the neighboring Mysore district, which is one of the virus hot spots in the state, said they sent supplies Sunday evening, but Chamarajanagar district officials said none had arrived at the hospital.
Rani, 28, a staff nurse and wife of Sureendra, who was in intensive care, said she spoke to her husband around 8:30 p.m. Sunday while he was having dinner and looked fine, she declared.
But around 11:30 p.m., he called his wife, gasping for air, she said.
“Please come here, I don’t want to die without seeing your face,” he said.
Rani, said she was shocked and called hospital authorities, who said they would organize oxygen soon. She called her husband back and told him to do some breathing exercises and try to lie face down on the ground.
She asked neighbors to accompany her to the hospital, a 45-minute ride from their village, but they refused, saying it was risky to travel at night.
When she arrived at the hospital, her stepfather told her that she was now a widow. Her husband had died early Monday, during that 10-hour period when the hospital was low on oxygen.
“God has been very mean and cruel to me.” she said. “The happiness he gave me briefly was taken away from me.