When Nadeem Qamar, 29, left his Delhi home to begin a 660 mile trek back to his hometown of Robertsganj, he thought he would be safe. Mr Qamar had left the remote town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to work as a clerk in a HDFC Bank to support his family but became increasingly concerned about the surging number of Covid-19 cases in Indias 30 million-strong capital.
Several buses and an Uber later, he reached home on June 16 and headed to a local government hospital to get a Covid-19 test done. For three days he quarantined himself at home alone but after he did not receive the results of his test as instructed by June 19, he began to socialise with friends, thinking it would come back negative. To his horror, he received a phone call the next day apologising for the delay, attributed to an administrative error, telling him that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Stories like Mr Qamars are increasingly commonplace.
The virus has also hit one of the world’s most underfunded and understaffed health systems. Less than 2 is spent per person annually and pre-Covid, India faced a shortage of 600,000 doctors and two million nurses.
One doctor in the western city of Surat told the Telegraph that due to staff shortages, one healthcare professional was having to care for up to thirty critical Covid-19 patients.
Understaffing had been compounded by doctors and nurses contracting Covid-19, due to shortages in protective equipment like, masks, gowns and gloves. Unqualified interns and physiotherapists were being expected to administer ventilators after a one-hour crash course. These people are expected to intubate patients and then manage these patients on ventilators, the doctor said on condition of anonymity.
Victoria Hospital, a public facility in the southern city of Bengaluru, has recorded a 97 percent death rate among patients on ventilators, far in excess of comparative figures for the United Kingdom and other developed nations. A death rate of almost 97 percent for patients on advanced respiratory support suggests something is going wrong in intensive care. Even in Italy at the peak of the Covid-19 incidence, the death rate of people on mechanical ventilation was around 65 percent, a senior professor at St Johns Medical College and Hospital in Bengaluru told the Indian Express.
*Additional reporting by Mohammad Sartaj Alam