COVID-19 Patients Keep Fleeing From Hospitals in India

Misinformation and stigma around the novel coronavirus has led to more than 100 patients fleeing from COVID-19 care facilities. 
Mumbai, India
September 11, 2020, 4:47pm
COVID-19 Patients Keep Fleeing From Hospitals in India
In this photograph taken on July 15, 2020 doctors and nurses wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suits work at the Intensive Care Unit for COVID-19 patients at the Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida. Photo courtesy of Xavier Galiana / AFP

On September 10, two COVID-19 patients, who’d been accused of rape and were under trial, escaped from a hospital in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh where they were being treated. At around 4 a.m., the patients broke open a bathroom window and fled from the COVID-19 care facility.

Anil Mittal, the Superintendent of Police, in whose jurisdiction the hospital falls, told VICE News that the men were caught on the same day, and were taken back to the hospital.

Over the last seven months, more than 100 COVID-19 positive patients in India have fled from designated care facilities in various states.

Last week, five COVID-19 patients fled from a government hospital in the western Indian state of Nagpur. They were apprehended while trying to board a train.

In August, a convicted prisoner who was undergoing treatment for COVID-19 at a care centre in the western Indian state of Gujarat, escaped using a rope made from bedsheets.

“In a situation like this, you forcefully put patients in a facility and they lose their [sense of] autonomy,” Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, a leading Indian epidemiologist, told VICE News. Dr Muliyil pointed out that poor communication on the part of the hospital or doctor can result in creating a negative environment and the patient may feel the need to escape.

In the northeastern Indian state of Assam, at least 100 COVID-19 patients broke out of a hospital, alleging that they were not being given proper food, water and treatment at the hospital.

Similarly, 28 people ran away from a quarantine facility in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, citing improper facilities.

When the novel coronavirus first hit India in early March this year, many people who had come from other countries and tested positive, tried to escape government-run facilities. Most of these cases were results of lack of adequate healthcare facilities in India.

“It is partly due to negligence [of COVID-19] patients, but also an issue of ignorance and failing to recognise the seriousness of the situation,” Aditi Karthick, a psychologist who is part of a pan-India tele-counselling programme for coronavirus-related issues, told VICE News. “When patients are in isolation, a lot of unnecessary thoughts stir up. They feel cut off from the outside world and may react [by running away]”, she said. Karthick added that the rising sentiments of COVID-19 denialism and easing of lockdown restrictions to stimulate the economy, may have contributed to people taking the pandemic and its guidelines less seriously.

India imposed one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns in March this year, as cases began to rise, and started easing restrictions in June. India has allowed inter-state travel without mandatory quarantine or tests, commenced entrance exams for medical and engineering schools, and educational institutes are reopening in a phased manner. Currently, India has the second-highest COVID-19 tally in the world. It took the country only 13 days to reach the latest one million cases.

“Misinterpretation of the information, and misinformation are parallels in the pandemic,” Dr Sumaira Shaikh, a neuroscientist and founder of scientific fact-checking website, AltNews Science, told VICE News. “Public health authorities in India have not effectively disseminated information on COVID-19. Social media and journalism have been reduced to reporting on the low death rate due to the virus, as compared to other deadly diseases like tuberculosis, diabetes or heart disease. There is also misinformation on self absolving home remedies.”

With more than 4.5 million confirmed cases, India has reported more than 76,271 deaths so far.

Follow Shamani on Instagram.