NEW DELHI—The rising number of COVID-19 cases in India’s national capital—and the resulting attempts by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government and the Narendra Modi-led union government to expand the healthcare system’s capacity to serve more people infected by the coronavirus—have deprived many patients suffering from other critical ailments of healthcare services.
Among those struggling to get access to healthcare services in the affordable or free public hospitals are many people who were adversely affected by the communal violence in North-East Delhi during late February. HuffPost India spoke to three patients who have been unable to access affordable treatment and source life-saving medicines as the government hospitals they depended on were turned into COVID-19 facilities.
Their experiences capture the problems faced by countless others in Delhi who are unable to access healthcare services due to attempts being made to expand infrastructure for coronavirus-related treatment and restrictions on provision of other health services in government hospitals.
The people affected by communal violence are living with the consequences of the governments’ failure twice within the space of a few months. If the first time it was about the various arms of the government failing to protect their life and liberty during communal violence, the second time the state has failed to protect the people’s right to health which, as HuffPost India recently reported, has been recognised as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian constitution.
The problem of access to affordable healthcare for people suffering from various ailments due to the communal violence prevails alongside the well-documented limitations of the healthcare facilities meant for patients infected by the coronavirus.
Activists working on affordable healthcare access say the public health system is unable to fully address demands for services from both kinds of patients—those suffering from COVID-19 as well as the ones affected by other critical ailments, whether during or after the communal violence.
The Supreme Court alluded to some of these limitations in a recent order when it took up a case suo motu, in response to media reports, about the improper handling of dead bodies of patients and quality of overall services in government hospitals. It also had sharp words about the mismanagement of big government hospitals.
But even as governments struggle to expand and improve health infrastructure for coronavirus infected patients, countless others suffering from critical ailments urgently await affordable healthcare and are struggling to find it, often relying on non-profits and activists for temporary help.
HuffPost India reached out to the Delhi government’s health secretary IAS Padmini Singla with a request to comment on some of these concerns. This report will be updated if she responds.
IMPACT OF COMMUNAL VIOLENCE ON HEART
Take the case of Mustafabad residents Mohammad Ayub (54) and his wife Abida (45). The taxi driver said that a few days after the communal violence of late February subsided, he felt severe pain in his chest. When Ayub was inspected by a doctor at the Delhi government-run GB Pant hospital in early March, he was told that he had had three heart attacks and stents would have to be placed on his heart.
Speaking to HuffPost India, Ayub said, “Two or three days after the communal violence, I suffered from a heart attack due to fear. I didn’t even know that I had an attack. It was the doctor who told me that I had three heart attacks and my valves are punctured. I will have to get stents placed in the heart.”
The procedure was done in March, but by the time Ayub tried to go for a check-up a month later, the GB Pant Hospital had been declared a COVID-19 facility by the Kejriwal government.
“Doctors tried a lot to help save my life when I went to them for the first time but when it was closed for other patients, what could they do?” asked Ayub.
“The procedure was done in March, but by the time Ayub tried to go for a check-up a month later, the GB Pant Hospital had been declared a COVID-19 facility by the AAP Govt.”
Subsequently, with the help of a local activist named Uzma, who reached out to other activists, Ayub managed to get admission at the union government-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for a day to get a follow-up examination done after which he was discharged.
The resident of Mustafabad neighbourhood in Northeast Delhi has now been prescribed medicines which cost him Rs 2,170 each month. To add to this, his wife Abida has diabetes and requires insulin injections once every day, which costs about Rs 1,200 per month. While prior to the lockdown, Abida’s medicines could be obtained for free at the Out Patients Department of the municipal corporation-run Swami Dayanand hospital, now they have to buy it from private doctors or medical shops as the OPD is shut.
Ayub is also worried about his monthly rent of Rs3,500 in the absence of his driving job, which brought in Rs10,000 a month.
While local activists like Uzma assist him with accessing medicines required for himself and his wife, he says that the only reliable way to access medicines is through the government hospitals as he did earlier.
LOST LIMB AND LIVELIHOOD, WAITING FOR OPERATION
The experience of 22-year-old tailor Mohammad Akram Khan shows what happens when critical treatment is discontinued midway as a hospital is converted to a COVID-19 facility. During the communal violence in February, Akram said he was assaulted by mobs and his hands suffered severe injuries.
While his right hand was amputated below the elbow by doctors at the Delhi government-run Guru Tegh Bahadur (GTB) hospital, his left hand was relatively less damaged but one of the fingers was amputated.
“My treatment was going on at the GTB Hospital but because of Corona, I am unable to continue it. A broken bone in the shoulder is still to be operated upon and we are waiting to get the date for the operation from another hospital but there is no clarity about that,” said Akram, who stays with his uncle and elder brother in Old Mustafabad.
The disruption in treatment has had an effect on his everyday life in terms of earnings as well as health. While he used to earn around Rs 30,000 from tailoring work, that option is closed to him now.
“My treatment was going on at the GTB Hospital but because of Corona, I am unable to continue it.”
While his shoulder bone aches frequently, he is also bothered by the pus oozing from a wound on his left hand. He briefly got some relief when Mohammad Gufran Alam, an activist working with NGO Aman Biradari, took him to see a doctor at the privately run St. Stephens hospital, where his left hand was bandaged. The outfit also took care of expenses. The hospital also told Akram that it will conduct an x-ray and then operate on his shoulder.
The 22-year-old says while the St. Stephens Hospital helped when he paid two visits and bandaged him and told him they would operate on his shoulder, he is still waiting for a date for the next appointment. Also, given that the count of COVID-19 affected people is only rising each day, he is not hopeful about resuming his disrupted treatment at the GTB Hospital, which continues to be a COVID 19 special facility.
Alam, an activist working with Aman Biradari, an NGO helping people affected by communal violence in North East Delhi, says they have assisted at least 50 people who were affected by communal violence and whose treatment in government hospitals got disrupted on account of them being turned into COVID 19 hospitals. He anticipates the actual number of those in need of urgent treatment to be much higher.