April 26, 2021

The second wave of COVID-19 and India’s crumbling healthcare system


By Shakir Alam Mazumder,

With over three lakhs Covid positive reported on Friday, India is seeing the huge and deadlier second wave of Covid-19 which it has not expected. India has done remarkably better than the first world countries during the first wave of Coronavirus. Strict imposition of lockdown, night curfews and maintaining Covid appropriate behavior to producing vaccine, India has been leading the world in the battle against coronavirus. But lately, the situation has worsened to the extent that people are dying due to limited number of beds, oxygen supply and drugs. Social Media is flooded with posts requesting hospital beds, essential medicines and oxygen supply.

What has led India to this condition?
Poor Health Infrastructure: Many hospitals are reporting shortage of beds. People are being queued outside the hospitals and some are losing their lives there without even getting a chance to see a doctor. Disturbing videos of families pleading doctors to at least check the patient surfaced on various social media platforms. This is the condition of country’s capital state New Delhi which is believed to have one of the best medical facilities in the country. The situation is worse in the remotest part of the country. Several states are creating temporary ICU beds and all but with the pace of rising Covid positive case, it will be hard to keep up and entertain all. Cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad have almost run out of hospital beds. Oxygen supply has been a particular problem, mostly in Delhi which has only one oxygen producing plant. Top hospitals are also running dangerously low on supplies. Twenty five patients had died because they could not get enough of oxygen supply in a Delhi’s Gangaram Hospital.It shows how officials neglected the threat of the second wave. They did not take use of the lean period i.e. when cases were under control by the end of 2020 to boost the infrastructure.

New Mutants: By the end of the year, scientists had detected a new variant, B.1.617, with two mutations- the E484Q and L452R. This type of mutant was first detected in Maharashtra. Many experts believed that the sudden surge of Covid positive cases is because of this double mutant strain of virus, which is said to be more infectious. The third mutation is said to have been evolved from the double mutation where three different strains have combined to form a new one posed a new threat in the country’s battle against corona virus.

Vaccine Diplomacy: India among few countries manufacturing vaccines for Covid-19. It has earned huge appreciation from foreign countries, even the World Health Organisation (WHO) praised India for exporting vaccines. However now it is struggling to meet even the home demand. Various vaccines centres were closed after the first day of opening facing the shortage of supply. So, did the government miscalculate requirements?

Remdesivir and essesntial drugs: With shortage of hospital beds and oxygen supply, people are facing the shortage of essential drugs to treat patients with Covid positive. Government banned the export of this drug which is being used in emergency to treat critical Covid-19 patients who are hospitalised. Since, this drug is high in demand, black marketing is also taking place.

Unreported Deaths: The number of deaths has risen drastically in the second wave. Crematorium have been running day and nights cremating several bodies at a time. A heart-wrenching photo of a Bhopal crematorium went viral where 45 dead bodies of Covid patients were burning but only 4 deaths were officially recorded that day claimed by a photo-journalist Sanjeev Gupta. Experts say that actual number of deaths will be much higher than the official ones.

Poor Management: Unlike first wave, India has not tightened its administration in compliance of Covid-appropriate behavior. It has imposed only night curfew and lockdown for some weeks just after the spike in positive cases. Big religious gatherings, crowded market place and election rallies are to be blamed for the spread of the virus. After availability of vaccine and decline of active cases by the end of 2020, a false sense of normalcy returned and everybody including the officials did not pay any heed to norms made by them the very last year. In Uttarakhand, over 48 lakhs people attended Kumbh Mela, an important pilgrimage and festival for Hindus. Despite the best efforts, the police could not impose the Covid norms resulting nearly two thousand people tested positive. Uttarakhand was reporting 500 cases when the Kumbh Mela was started. By 17 April, when it was called off, the daily cases had risen to 2757. Uttarakhand will go for assembly election in February next year, CM Rawat could not take the risk to offend the religious sentiment by cancelling the religious gatherings.

Election holds the first priority among these politicians. When the country was recording as high as over three lakhs cases of covid-19, Home Minister Amit Shah was doing election rallies in West Bengal. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called an emergency meeting on 22 April to discuss the current Covid situation of the country with Prime Minister Modi and Chief Ministers of 10 other states. But PM got annoyed and interrupted the meeting just because it was live telecasted on news channels. It is only today, when Modi allocated funds from PM CARES to build oxygen plants which he raised from general public in the last year but we already lost so many lives due to shortage of oxygen supply. The lack of proper action plan and without co-ordination between the centre and the states is taking the lives which can be saved.The country is experiencing a tough time amid the second wave with no central plan to defeat it. Some experts said that that the daily cases might cross the five lakhs mark soon in May which implied the more loss of lives.

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