As the health infrastructure continues to be overwhelmed and SOS calls inundate social media due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in India, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in a virtual interaction with some editors claimed that there is “no shortage of oxygen” in private or government hospitals in the state. He said that the actual problem was that of “black-marketeering and hoarding.”
But while the UP chief minister stated that he has asked officials to “seize the property” of those spreading rumours around oxygen outage and trying to “spoil the atmosphere,” ground reports by several news organisations including The Quint and first-hand accounts of healthcare professionals and activists working for COVID relief paint a completely different picture.
What Do Ground Reports Show?
In a report dated 22 April, The Quint detailed how multiple hospitals in Lucknow are facing an acute shortage of oxygen cylinders.
These include The Mayo Hospital, which received last-minute delivery of oxygen endangering lives of critical care patients, and Make Well Hospital and Trauma Centre, which had to put up a notice regarding oxygen outage and ask patients to visit other facilities.
While speaking to The Quint, the hospital authorities claimed that they had not received any assurance from the UP administration even though the situation had gotten worse.
In another report, published on 23 April, The Quint showed the story of a COVID patient’s family in Uttar Pradesh’s Shahjahanpur. The patient’s brother Sanjeev Banga told the media that he got his brother admitted to a hospital but they didn't get any oxygen support.
Another report published on news website Scroll on 27 April documents the shortage of oxygen in eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia district. Quoting a local activist, the news report mentions that most of the families in the area have the same story – they develop a fever and then they are gasping for breath, but there is no oxygen. It goes on to document the stories of more such people who died due to lack of oxygen support.
Different News Reports, Same Stories
News reports from different parts of UP are highlighting how critical care patients are suffering due to oxygen outage in public and private hospitals.
- According to a report by India Today (dated 28 April), 7-8 COVID-19 patients died at Paras Hospital in Agra due to acute shortage of beds and medical oxygen.
- As per a report published on 24 April in The Hindu, Durgawati Hospital in Barhalganj reported five deaths in two days because they had to “slow down” the oxygen for patients and there was a delay in replenishing the stock.
- In another instance, the Chief Medical Superintendent of a hospital in Kanpur Nagar told The Indian Express that while his hospital never ran out of oxygen, there were times when a 15-minute delay in cylinders caused problems.
- Another report by NDTV, talks about how at least seven patients died in two Meerut hospitals – three at Anand hospital and four at KMC hospital – due to oxygen shortage. It further quoted senior doctors from the two hospitals who highlighted the same issue.
Ground Reality Grim, Doctors & Volunteers Explain
We got in touch with doctors, experts, and activists working in Uttar Pradesh to get a sense of the ground reality. All of them spoke to us on conditions of anonymity, citing fear and crackdown by the government as the reason.
A senior consultant, who along with her family has been working towards relief and aid of COVID patients in Agra, told us that the situation is grim and there is an acute shortage of oxygen in hospitals.
“There is no oxygen and when fatalities happen there is a lot of anger among patients. Agra has smaller nursing homes and there are a few big hospitals. In smaller hospitals fights are breaking out because patients come with a sense of hope that something will happen but because there is shortage of oxygen, hospitals and doctors can only do so much. There is mismanagement of oxygen supplies.”Senior Consultant working for COVID relief in Agra
She further added that various hospitals in Agra have put out notices saying that they are going to run out of oxygen. She also pointed out that the testing in the state is not adequate and the numbers of positive cases and deaths are being grossly misreported.
As per the data provided daily by the Uttar Pradesh government, Agra reported four deaths and 438 cases as of 27 April.
Another COVID relief volunteer, who refused to be named, says that the situation is particularly bad in state capital Lucknow and Agra.
“I receive 12-15 oxygen related SOS calls almost every day. The situation is particularly bad in Lucknow and Agra. You can see people crying at medical shops because of an acute shortage of medicines and oxygen. Now, because the government has banned sale of oxygen to individuals, people are turning to the black market.”
Uttar Pradesh government made a doctor’s prescription mandatory for buying oxygen and refilling cylinders to curb hoarding in the light of the rising cases.
Another junior doctor at a reputed hospital in Lucknow says that oxygen shortage is real in the state and that he has been receiving multiple SOS calls from people every day. He didn’t want his hospital’s name or his name to be revealed.
However, despite harrowing accounts from across the state, the state government continues to say that there is no “shortage of oxygen.”