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Coronavirus | Three-fourths to die of COVID-19 in Bhopal were survivors of 1984 gas tragedy

A municipal worker spraying disinfectant at a residential area in Bhopal.

A municipal worker spraying disinfectant at a residential area in Bhopal.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Nearly three-fourths of 60 patients to die of COVID-19 in Bhopal were survivors of the gas tragedy which compromised their immunity significantly leaving them vulnerable to the illness, said survivors’ groups.

An analysis of 60 of 69 deaths here until June 11 by four groups working for the survivors, which they submitted to the Chief Minister requesting intervention, has revealed 45 deaths, or 74%, were that of survivors, while 5% (three deaths) were of their children. Further, at least four of the five deceased among the survivors suffered from one or more underlying illness which hastened death.

The deaths proved survivors were ailing even 35 years after the methyl isocyanate leakage from a pesticide plant here, contended Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. “They had suffered permanent damage. 81% of the deceased had comorbidities, which they acquired due to gas exposure,” she said.

Categorised temporary/minor injuries

However, all the 45 deceased were among the 5,21,322 survivors categorised as having suffered temporary/minor injuries, which didn’t require long-term care. “We demand the State government categorise them as having suffered permanent injury in a curative petition pending before the Supreme Court to secure fair compensation for them. Otherwise, the government can be construed as misleading the court,” said Ms. Dhingra.

Further, the groups called upon the State government to hold a dialogue with them and the survivors to devise an effective preventive strategy. The analysis further shows three of four patients among survivors died within five days of being admitted to hospitals. Sixteen of the 19 to die within 24 hours of admission were also the tragedy’s survivors.

“We have seen most of the deceased among the gas tragedy survivors ignored symptoms initially and presented themselves late to hospitals, which spiked fatalities,” explained Lokendra Dave, member, State Expert Committee on Clinical Management for COVID-19 and Head, Department of Respiratory Medicine, Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal. He said the Bhopal district administration had been undertaking screening and sampling drives aggressively in survivors’ localities to contain the virus’ spread.

‘Even younger survivors’

“It was alarming that even the relatively younger survivors were dying of COVID-19,” said Purnendu Shukla, Member, Supreme Court’s Monitoring Committee for Gas Victims. Among those below 59 to die, 85% were the survivors.

Further, Mr. Shukla pointed out the Indian Council of Medical Research-run Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC), the dedicated superspeciality hospital for the survivors, was not admitting COVID-19 suspects, which was causing delay in their treatment. Meanwhile, the hospital’s officials refused to comment.

“The hospital had agreed to maintain a 10-bed isolation ward, which they are yet to set up,” he said, “Further, the BMHRC invariably refers all possible COVID-19 cases to the government-run Hamidia Hospital. The pulmonary ward, which catered to several patients once, is empty now. And let’s not forget, pulmonary diseases form comorbidities in most deaths.”

‘Study data’

The monitoring committee had asked the State government to study COVID-19 data relating to the tragedy’s survivors separately, which it was yet to undertake, said Mr. Shukla. “And we have asked them to give test reports to patients, which they are yet to comply with,” he said.

In March, when the BMHRC was briefly converted into a universal COVID-19 centre, precluding continuing treatment to survivors, around 65 admitted patients were discharged in one fell swoop. “Four patients among them died days later. The BMHRC didn’t trace the rest, or follow-up on their treatment or admit them back,” he said. Most patients to be discharged in March, at 28, were from the pulmonary ward.

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.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2020 2:20:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/three-fourths-to-die-of-covid-19-in-bhopal-were-survivors-of-1984-gas-tragedy/article31883729.ece

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