Bambolim, Goa – In the early hours of May 12, Yunus Khan’s family watched helplessly as the 30-year-old coronavirus patient drowned to breathe while on a ventilator at the government-run Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH). the city of Bambolim, on the east coast.
According to his brother Abdul Khan, 21, Yunus had been advancing.
“When we panicked and told the doctor, he told us to make a video and send it to the chief minister,” he told Al Jazeera. “His lungs had broken, so a fan was the only way to stabilize his condition.”
A taxi driver from Ponda, South Goa district, Yunus was admitted to GMCH on May 10 after being diagnosed with COVID-induced pneumonia. He died on May 15 in the hospital’s ICU ward.
“My brother had no comorbidities. He died because there was no oxygen in the hospital, ”Khan said.
Oxygen shortage kills dozens
Between 11 and 16 May, the drop in oxygen levels at Goa’s largest hospital killed 75 COVID-19 patients.
A doctor working at GMCH, on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that the pipes carrying oxygen from the main tank were corroded, prompting the leak.
“There was also a delay in bringing the oxygen cylinders outside,” he added.
Experts believe the high death toll was the culmination of the state government’s inaction for months to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
Antonio Clovis, president of the South Goa Bar Association, said Goa had become a holiday haven for those who were in Delhi and Mumbai fleeing strict closures in their cities.
“In December-January, there were parties in Goa with 5,000 people in attendance. Even during the high point of the second wave, Goa did not demand a negative COVID certificate from citizens entering the state, ”said Clovis.
The effect on tourism, the state’s largest source of income, was seen as the reason for the indulgent policy.
On May 7, Goa, India’s smallest state in terms of area, had the highest coronavirus positivity rate in the country, at 51%.
Even before the state government imposed the curfew and closure on May 9, the state had the highest number of COVID cases in the country per million people.
Pratik Sawant, president of the Goa Resident Medical Association (GARD), told Al Jazeera that hospitals had been overflowing with patients in April.
“Against a capacity of 700 beds in GMCH, we had 950 patients. Some of the deaths occurred due to oxygen deficiency, but it was a combination of staff shortages, shortage of medical equipment and low supply of medicines, ”he said.
“This hospital has left us orphaned”
On May 8, Cracy Fernandes, 39, rushed her parents to GMCH after showing COVID-like symptoms. After four days of what he called “complete neglect” by doctors and nurses, his parents died on May 12.
“When we took them, they were forced to share an oxygen tank. When we checked, the cylinder was empty, “Cracy told Al Jazeera.
He said that at one point, the doctor asked him to put the oxygen mask on his father, a 67-year-old patient with diabetes.
“They would ask us to get rid of the IV drip. How can we do these things without training? We had to run 20 minutes just to find a nurse, ”she said.
Hours after his mother, who was 60 without comorbidities, died, her father’s condition deteriorated. But there were no empty ICU beds in the hospital, Cracy said.
“The nurse gave him an injection and I noticed that his body had become cold. When I alerted the nurse, they brought an ECG machine but it didn’t work, ”he said.
“My parents’ condition was critical. They had to be in the fan beds. But here they were, attached to oxygen cylinders that were empty, ”Cracy added.
“My father died a few hours after my mother. This hospital has left us orphaned, “Cracy told Al Jazeera.
The court intervenes to save lives
The deplorable state of Goa’s hospitals could be seen in videos shared by the patients ’relatives, which showed rooms full of people with patients sleeping on the floor and medical waste piled up nearby.
On April 28, relatives of one patient attacked doctors and nurses at GMCH and broke a ventilator. The escalation of the situation forced GARD to issue a letter on May 1 to threaten to withdraw the services of 300 doctors in COVID service across the state.
Sawant said doctors had been working 14-hour shifts due to lack of proper staff.
“The authorities gave statements to the media saying that there were no problems with beds or oxygen. But when the oxygen ran out and the patients died, we had to deal with the anger of angry relatives who demanded to know why they die if there was no shortage, ”he said.
GARD’s letter prompted the South Goa Defenders Association to present a case to the Supreme Court on May 4, asking for its intervention. Clovis said the hearings set out the government’s claims.
“Things were so terrible that the court did not want to settle for accountability. The only goal was to save lives,” Clovis told Al Jazeera.
He added that authorities contradicted each other when the judge asked follow-up questions. “It’s shocking that the court had to ask the authorities to save lives,” he said.
In its order, the high court rebuked the state government for evading its duty to save lives “alleging impotence and citing logistical difficulties.”
Faced with criticism and in accordance with the court order, the state government on May 15 assigned staff to monitor the oxygen level in the GMCH centralized unit. A 20,000-liter capacity cryogenic oxygen tank was also installed, which has not yet been functional.
Goa Health Secretary Ravi Dhawan told Al Jazeera that there was no shortage of oxygen supplies in hospitals across the state. When asked about the reasons for the oxygen shortage that killed patients at GMCH, he declined to comment.
Dr. Joseph Britto, a former tenured professor at St. Mary’s, in London, who currently resides in Goa, said there would not be enough oxygen, hospital beds, fans and clinical staff for the next wave of the virus.
“The only way to stop this pandemic and prevent the next one is mass and rapid nationwide vaccination followed by hypervigilant epidemiological surveillance and gene sequencing of the virus,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We have to stop scrubbing the floor and turn off the tap.”