“Oxygen shortage killed my husband.”
... says 42-year-old Anju Varma, who lost her husband Sheeshpal to COVID-19 on 7 May. A resident of Amehra Adipur village in Uttar Pradesh's Meerut district, Varma told The Quint that her village has no testing facilities and no vaccination plans in sight.
There are no primary care centres either and patients have to be taken to nearest private hospitals in Meerut city.
Around 14 mm from Amehra Adipur, in another Meerut village of Gagol, a family is mourning the loss of 38-year-old Nawab Singh. Nawab's father Sukhbir Singh said that while he lost his son to COVID-19, for the longest time, they dismissed it as 'dry cough'.
“When he (Nawab) developed fever, I told him to visit a doctor in the city... he knew of them. But he didn’t listen to me and continued self-medicating. He said he’ll be fine, that it’s just a dry cough.”Sukhbir Singh, Gagol Village, Meerut
In Meerut Villages, As People Develop 'Flu-Like' Symptoms, COVID-19 Turns a Silent Killer
As Meerut continues to be one of the worst COVID-19 affected districts in Uttar Pradesh, with 20 deaths and 453 fresh cases reported on 18 May alone, the situation is particularly grim in the rural areas.
In Gagol village, Mahendra Singh, husband of former Sarpanch Kusumlata told The Quint that approximately 25-30 people have died in the village since 15 March because of 'flu-like' symptoms. However, as per officials, the count stands at 18 deaths, only two of which have been listed under COVID-19.
“I have started maintaining a register with names of those who have died since 15 March. There are 30 names in my list. However, officials claim that only 18 people have died in Gagol, out of which only two were COVID deaths.”Mahendra Singh, Gagol Village, Meerut
Robin Singh, the pradhan designate of Amehra Adipur village, also has a similar figure to tell. He says that after the death of 20-25 people with 'flu-like symptoms' in one month, villagers are scared and are following a self-imposed lockdown.
No Support From Administration Leaves Villagers Scared and Anxious
Singh further adds that despite repeated complaints, no testing teams have been sent to the village by the Meerut administration.
“There are no testing centres in the village. The authorities have not even sent people to sanitise the village, even after multiple COVID-19 deaths were reported.”Robin Singh, Amehra Adipur village, Meerut
Anju Varma lives next to Singh's house. She told The Quint that her COVID-19 report came only after his death. "We never thought that he could catch COVID infection. There was no way to find out. It was only after his condition worsened and we took him to Pyare Lal Hospital in the city, that the doctors ordered a COVID test. He died before his reports came," she said.
Dilapidated PHCs, Black Marketing, Private Hospitals and Home Remedies
Nawab Singh's death in Gagol, raises a pertinent question on the condition of the Primary Health Centres in his village. Covered in heaps of dust and characterised by damp walls and open defecation pits, the PHC meant to be the village's first line of defence against the virus has been defunct for over a decade.
Ramdhir, Nawab's cousin, told The Quint that a functional PHC could have saved the life of his brother.
“It would have made a difference. We could have availed all COVID-related facilities, including testing and medicines at the PHC. If these facilities were available, we could have detected coronavirus infection in early stages and situation wouldn’t have worsened. He (Nawab) was here for 2-3 days before being hospitalised. Had we known he had COVID-19, we could have saved him. We kept on thinking that it was viral fever.”Ramdhir Singh, Gagol Village, Meerut
A Primary Health Centre in Meerut's Gagol village.
(Photo: Athar Rather/The Quint)
The PHC, villagers allege has been in a dilapidated state for over a decade.
(Photo: Athar Rather/The Quint)
Varma, on the other hand, said that her family and others in the village have to rush to private hospitals in nearby cities for everything big and small because there are no government-run health centres in Amehra Adipur. Those who can't afford that, have locked themselves up inside their homes and are self-medicating with kadhas and steam.
"When my husband died, we were desperately in need of an oxygen cylinder. The only leads we got were from people who were charging as high as 40-50k for one cylinder," she says.
“If I had that kind of money, would I not have taken my husband to the best hospital in the city?”
(The Quint has reached out to Meerut's District Magistrate and this story will be updated as and when we receive a response.)