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Coronavirus | Bhopal gas survivors left in the lurch

Four of the five patients who died of COVID-19 in Bhopal were survivors of the city’s 1984 gas tragedy, and were suffering from respiratory illnesses that made them more vulnerable to the disease.

One of the patients was denied ambulance service and admission by two private hospitals, another by one private hospital and the third by both a private and a government-run hospital. While two of them could be admitted to a private hospital at the last minute, one died on way to hospital.

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“If the BMHRC had been open for us, we could have gone there,” said Gaurav Khatik, son of the first patient to die of COVID-19 in Bhopal, aged 52, on April 6. He had managed to collect ₹90,000 with friends’ support for the brief treatment of his father, who was asthmatic, at a private hospital.

No option

After the State government converted the ICMR-run Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) into a dedicated COVID-19 hospital on March 23, the facility closed its doors to the survivors of the methyl isocyanate leak from a pesticide plant in the city in 1984, which killed thousands and caused deformities and congenital diseases in lakhs.

They are now left with no other government-run superspeciality hospital. Tens of patients, including 28 from the pulmonary ward, the most from any department, were shunted out.

Also read | Anxiety grips Bhopal gas tragedy survivors as hospital designated as COVID-19 facility

According to the eight community health centres of the BMHRC, from 1998 to 2016, 50.4% of gas-affected patients suffered from cardiovascular problems, 59.6% from pulmonary problems and 15.6% from diabetes, illnesses that make patients susceptible to the coronavirus. The Principal Secretary of Public Health and Family Welfare had said alternative arrangements had been made for them at the six State government-run hospitals.

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Yet, Aman Yadav’s 52-year-old father was sent away by the Pulmonary Medicine Centre, one of the six hospitals he approached after being denied admission by a private hospital.

The next day on April 11, he walked till the ward of the government-run Hamidia Hospital, gasping for breath, and died.

“He had earlier undergone treatment for tuberculosis at the gas relief hospital. His situation worsened every year with the change of season,” said Mr. Yadav.

On April 8, even Sanjay Maithil’s 80-year-old father, asthmatic, was denied admission by a private hospital. Earlier he was treated at the BMHRC. “We faced a lot of trouble getting him admitted to both private and government hospitals,” he recalled.

Gas tragedy survivors and those with lung ailments are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, said Tarun Kumar Pithode, Bhopal Collector. “We have designated the BMHRC as the COVID-19 hospital for the survivors only. We have appointed a nodal officer for them too. And private hospitals can’t deny admission. We will act against them.” Two of them died even before they tested positive for COVID-19, and the third wasn’t shifted to the BMHRC even after testing positive.

Plea in HC

On Tuesday, the Bhopal Group for Information and Action filed an application for urgent hearing with the Madhya Pradesh High Court regarding the denial of medical facilities at the BMHRC to the survivors, which had reportedly caused deaths of three survivors suffering from non-COVID-19 ailments.

Also read | 35 years after Bhopal Gas Tragedy, survivors decry lack of relief

The rights group on March 21 had written to Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Harsh Vardhan demanding adequate testing and critical facilities for the survivors, in view of their heightened vulnerability.

Rachna Dhingra of the group said, “What we feared is happening now. If the government doesn’t focus on the survivors, there will be more deaths. They have shut the only superspeciality hospital for them. Even other gas relief hospitals have closed OPDs.”

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 7:33:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/coronavirus-bhopal-gas-survivors-left-in-the-lurch/article31342630.ece

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