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India’s health system on verge of collapse under COVID surge


Manoej Paateel | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 04/21/21

"Our country needs a lot of prayers," says Catholic bishop, as nation grapples with severe shortage of oxygen, hospital beds.

India’s current COVID-19 situation is “hopeless” and “desperate,” according to a Catholic bishop in the country.

“The medical system has collapsed. The doctors are in tears as they can no more watch people dying,” said Bishop George Pallipparambil of the Diocese of Miao in India’s North East region, close to China. “Our political leaders have been busy electioneering, basking in the sunshine of the crowds gathering to see them, with no mask and other preventive measures.”

India, the world’s second most populous country, is experiencing a second wave of the pandemic, one that is stretching resources to the breaking point. Hospitals are running out of space for new patients, many of whom die waiting for a bed; crematoriums are operating 24/7; and hospitals’ oxygen supplies are running out.

The Washington Post said that the “ferocity of India’s second wave” of the pandemic is a major reason for a recent increase in the number of COVID cases worldwide. The country accounts for about one in three of all new cases, the newspaper said. 

Reuters reported that India had its worst daily death toll on Tuesday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country faced a coronavirus “storm,” overwhelming its health system.

“The health ministry said 1,761 people had died in the past day, raising India’s toll to 180,530,” Reuters said, “though experts believe India’s actual toll far exceeds the official count.”

“The number of actual positive cases are never known,” Bishop Pallipparambil told Aleteia by email. 

Reuters added:

On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 259,170 new infections nationwide — a sixth day over 200,000 and getting closer to the peak of nearly 300,000 seen in the United States in January.

Total coronavirus cases in India are now at 15.32 million, second only to the United States, with epidemiologists saying many more infectious new variants of the virus were one of the main factors behind the latest surge in cases.

Fr. George Kannanthanam, national secretary of the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCANews) that in major Indian cities Catholic hospitals with COVID-19 wards are full “and we have practically no space for fresh admissions.”

In Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state, the situation is “very bad,” Archbishop Thomas Macwan told UCANews. The archbishop of Gandhinagar was admitted to church-run Christ Hospital in Rajkot, 143 miles away, as his city had no hospital beds available.

“Our hospital beds reserved for Covid patients are full and we are trying to add more beds to accommodate critical patients,” Bishop Chittooparambil said.

On Wednesday, UCANews reported that seven Catholic priests have died of COVID-19 in the space of four days in Gujarat state.

Constant cremations

As if the shortage in oxygen wasn’t bad enough, a freak accident in a hospital in western India led to the death of at least 22 COVID patients on Wednesday. In a hospital in the city of Nashik, a leak in the main oxygen tank disrupted the flow of oxygen to the patients, Reuters reported. 

“Patients who were on ventilators at the hospital in Nashik have died,” said Rajesh Tope, health minister of Maharashtra, the state where Nashik is located. “The leakage was spotted at the tank supplying oxygen to these patients. The interrupted supply could be linked to the deaths of the patients in the hospital.”

The grim situation could hardly be better illustrated than the experience of Kamlesh Sailor, the president of a crematorium trust in the city of Surat. Last week, the steel pipes in two of the crematorium’s six chimneys melted from constant use, the Washington Post reported. “Where the facility used to receive about 20 bodies a day, he said, now it is receiving 100,” the Post said. 

Said Bishop Pallipparambil, “Our country needs a lot of prayers.”

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