When Kovid-19 hit Karamsingh Power, a tribal activist from Nandurbar district in northwestern Maharashtra, it took him 48 hours to get a hospital bed with oxygen.
The 55-year-old had to spend half a day in the corridor before being transferred to bed on April 11 after being admitted to the government-run Covid-19 center.
By then his oxygen saturation was dangerously low and he died the next day. “He was suffering from severe shortness of breath after receiving oxygen assistance,” Pallar’s son-in-law Prabhakar Thackeray told Al Jazeera over phone. “
Maharashtra, India’s richest state, has been hit hard by the high incidence of COVD-19, with patients like Powar struggling to get hospital beds and oxygen support. According to Health Minister Rajesh Top, the state’s daily oxygen consumption has reached 1,500 metric tonnes.
This is much higher than its daily production of 1,250 tons. Other states are contributing to filling the deficit, taking the time to travel by road. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has now requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deploy the National Disaster Management Authority to transport oxygen for speeding.
10,000 ‘active cases’
Nandurbar, 450 kilometers (220 miles) from the financial capital Mumbai, is a tribal-dominated and severely malnourished district with poor healthcare infrastructure and rugged terrain. With the virus spreading rapidly in such remote areas, Maharashtra is facing a bigger challenge in capturing the second wave of continuous epidemics.
“In the first wave, our active cases ranged from about 300 to 500,” Nandurbar District Health Officer Dr Nitin Bod told PTI. “This time, the number of active cases has increased to 10,000.”
The district currently has about 1000 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients including 400 oxygen and intensive care aids. To address this shortage, the district will introduce a 21-coach train that has been converted into an isolated center for the victims.
The train will add 336 beds to the pool. Last year, more than 300 coaches were put on standby by Indian Railways. “Nandurbar was the first district to acquire coaches,” said Sumit Tagore, chief public relations officer of Western Railway.
Maharashtra has so far witnessed more than 3.7 million cases and 59,550 deaths. This is currently 40 per cent of the total active cases in India. As of Friday, there were 633,722 new infections in the state. The highest enthusiasm has been recorded in Mumbai.
In other parts of eastern and western Maharashtra too, hundreds of patients have been transmitted from one district to another in search of oxygen-enabled hospital beds.
An 85-year-old man had to travel 400 kilometers (250 miles) in an ambulance until he got an oxygen bed in the drought-prone Nanded district of southeastern Maharashtra. Shalini Odalkar committed suicide on April 13, three days after being admitted to the hospital.
“We went to four hospitals in Nanded, including a government hospital, but none of them had oxygen beds,” said Odalkar’s niece, Vishal Dahle. From Nanded, they took him to the nearby Javatmal district, about 200 kilometers (90 miles) away.
None of the hospitals had empty beds. By then they had received a call from a private hospital in Nanded about the bed vacancy and returned immediately. “I have never been in so much pain. I can’t even imagine what my aunt was going through, ”Dahle said.
‘Break the chain’
Experts say that reducing the number of infections is the only way to save the grim situation in Maharashtra. On April 14, the state announced new restrictions until May 1. All installations, public places and activities were closed, excluding the necessary installations. Public transport was allowed to operate.
Dr Om Srivastava, an infectious disease specialist at a private hospital in Mumbai and a member of the CVD-11 Task Force in Maharashtra, said, “I certainly hope the new restrictions will allay fears of infection.”
In Mumbai, where the number of daily cases now averages 9,300, civic bodies have applied innovative methods to improve bed availability. The two five-star hotels were designated as a “step-down” facility for patients who no longer need emergency medical care and are on their way to recovery. More hotels will be collected for the transfer of patients in the coming days.
The second wave in a row has seen an increase in the amount of infection among Mumbai’s upper middle class population. Due to this trend, the demand for private hospital beds has increased. The shortage of beds, mainly in oxygen and intensive care units, is also coming from the private sector.
On Saturday, 97 per cent of Mumbai’s 2,711 ICU beds were occupied. In a rare move, city commissioner Iqbal Chahal ordered a private hospital to allocate more than 755 per cent of its beds for CVV-19 patients, and many more could be asked to follow suit.
Maharashtra remains the leading state in vaccination with more than 100 million doses so far. However, it has recently blocked a major roadblock over the two vaccines it is delivering, India’s India Biotech and AstraZeneca Kovishield, India’s own group Kovacin, which is being produced by the Serum Institute of India.
Even now that the vaccination campaign has resumed, health experts say that number is just a drop in the ocean for a state with a population of more than 120 million.
Soumitra Ghosh, an assistant professor at the Center for Health Policy, Planning and Management at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, said, “Considering the large population, India’s overall vaccination rate is lower than other countries.”
To date, India has given 11 million doses. In comparison, the United States has given about 200 million jobs. China is said to have handled about 184 million shots.
“In the case of large states like Maharashtra, the vaccination campaign needs to be intensified,” Ghosh said. “Not only immunization, but also strict control, isolation, testing and tracking of our communications. With the system overwhelmed in numbers, we now lack that focus. “