Foreign COVID Aid: Bulk of the Consignment Eludes AP, TN Hospitals
A large portion of the foreign aid consignment which the Centre promised the states have not reached hospitals.
After COVID-19 cases started spiking in India, foreign aid had poured in from various countries. The aid which includes oxygen generation plants, concentrators and cylinders, ventilators, bedside medical equipment, masks and remdesivir injection vials, however, was not equitably distributed across Indian states, The Quint has gathered.
This story is the first in a three-part series on the elusive foreign aid and the effect it has had on hospitals.
Since early May, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Mangalagiri, Andhra Pradesh has been admitting two COVID-19 patients for every one patient whom it discharges daily.
As a result, the institute is running short of crucial medical equipment. Each day, the officials here lie in wait for a consignment from the Centre – the much required foreign COVID-19 aid, of which only a fraction has arrived so far.
The institute houses a little over 350 patients.
As of 16 May, this Central government medical institute had received just 20 oxygen concentrators, 50 oxygen cylinders, 3,000 vials of Remdesivir injections and around 50,000 surgical masks from the Union government’s foreign aid pool, The Quint has gathered.
This paltry allocation is in stark contrast with the 40 lakh aid items that India had received from different countries including the US, UK, Australia, France, Russia and Switzerland, among others.
In Andhra Pradesh’s neighbouring state Tamil Nadu, the aid situation is more grim. While the state has “a miniscule portion of the aid”, the neighbouring Union Territory Puducherry has got a real raw deal.
Puducherry’s Central Government institute, Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) has got just 70 oxygen concentrators, an unspecified yet minimal number of masks and Remdesivir vials, sources at the institute told The Quint.
What’s more shocking is that the stalled medical aid has affected the functioning of these hospitals.
Long, Debilitating Wait in AP
What’s received as aid does not meet the need as these seem to be “blind allocations” done without weighing the requirement of the recipient hospitals, officials at AIIMS-Mangalagiri said.
The hospital needs ventilators and not transport ventilators, a doctor at AIIMS-Mangalagiri elaborated. “The ventilators which we received from the Centre last year were transport ventilators which cannot help patients with severe respiratory difficulties,” he said. While the Centre has promised 10 ventilators, the aid has not reached the hospital.
Moreover, the officials had placed a request with the Centre for N-95 masks. “All the masks we received are surgical masks. We don’t know whether we will get the masks we need,” the officer said.
The US alone had donated 16 lakh N-95 masks to the country in May.
What has hit the hospital the most is, however, its shrinking oxygen resources. AIIMS-Mangalagiri has been constructing an oxygen plant as part of its campus development. “In our meetings with the Ministry of Health we had communicated that we need the oxygen plant to be functional soon,” the official said.
The hospital has not received, oxygen generation plants or oxygen generation units from the Centre which UK had donated. Neither has AIIIMS-Mangalagiri received any special grant to speed up the construction of its oxygen plant. The hospital had also asked for an increase in its bed allocation from 500 beds to 1,000 beds.
None of the bedside equipment which foreign countries had donated have reached the hospital.
Besides, AIIMS-Mangalagiri’s recruitment of staff members is stalled thanks to the delay in aid. “If we get the aid soon enough, we could have quickly increased the bed capacity and recruited doctors to help the increasing number of patients. With the delay in the aid, we are not sure what to do,” the senior doctor explained.
TN-Puducherry Have Given up on Aid
In Puducherry’s JIPMER which has 539 beds had set aside all its resources for patients who require oxygen or ICU. “What can we do with 70 oxygen concentrators?” a JIPMER doctor asked. The hospital has been trying to increase its bed capacity drastically but due to lack of oxygen support the plan is stalled.
The doctor said that currently the hospital has enough oxygen for just the patients who are admitted. Any increase in beds will need further oxygen support. “If we get more aid, things could be a bit better. Every day we are increasing beds by a small number and within 20 minutes they get occupied. A drastic increase is what we are aiming for, if we get enough oxygen,” the doctor explained.
JIPMER authorities said that they have been admitting at least 10 new patients each day.
The hospital needs a good number of bedside equipment, oxygen generators and BiPAP machines, a doctor said. “But we cannot wait for this aid to reach to function. We are managing with what we have,” he added.
JIPMER had asked union government to send them ventilators too.
“We have got a miniscule amount of aid when compared to what has reached Delhi,” a senior minister in the Tamil Nadu cabinet told The Quint, indicating the state has asked the Centre why there is delay in the aid. “This is no longer a priority for us as we are sure that it will get delayed,” the minister said.
Where is the Aid?
None of the government officials whom The Quint talked to from either AP or TN knew why there’s a delay in the allocation of aid.
“We just know that we expected to get more aid. We don’t know when it will arrive,” the officer at AIIMS-Mangalagiri said. In Tamil Nadu, officials maintained that they have not tried to coax the Union government to allocate aid.
“We want to rely less on the Union government because any delay from them could affect our functioning,” a JIPMER said. Meanwhile, The Hindu has reported that 40 lakh items of foreign aid was distributed to 38 institutions in 31 states and Union Territories.
An investigation by the Reporter’s Collective, however, has found that 3.05 lakh items of the 57.69 lakh received as aid were stuck in transit.
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