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Coronavirus Patients Sharing Beds in Mumbai Hospitals Shows How Overwhelmed Our Healthcare System Is

Though even sports stadiums and train compartments have been converted to quarantine centres, the city is running out of beds for COVID-19 patients.
31 May 2020, 9:58pm
Coronavirus Patients Sharing Beds in Mumbai Hospitals Shows How Overwhelmed Our Healthcare System Is
Residents wait for a medical check-up at a screening centre set up inside a slum during a nationwide lockdown to fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Mumbai on May 29, 2020. Photo by 
Indraneel Mukherjee / AFP

This article originally appeared on VICE India.

More than a week ago, experts expressed concerns about how India has more coronavirus patients than hospital beds and doctors available. Despite stringent lockdowns and attempts to flatten the curve, India now holds the world’s ninth worst coronavirus case count. And the city most overwhelmed by the highly contagious virus is Mumbai, India’s financial capital.

With a population of more than 20 million, Mumbai has been struggling to contain its coronavirus cases for months. From sports stadiums to train compartments, many makeshift healthcare facilities to isolate infected patients have been set up all over the city. However, videos that have now surfaced show that some hospitals are being forced to allocate two or three coronavirus patients to the same bed, sometimes even compelled to make them share oxygen ventilators.

"It's a war zone. There are two to three patients per bed, some on the floor, some in corridors. We don't have enough oxygen ports. So even though some patients need it, they can't be given oxygen," an anonymous doctor from Mumbai’s KEM hospital told the BBC. Another doctor from the Sion government hospital confirmed that they were facing the same situation, even adding that the zones to wear and dispose PPEs lacked proper hygiene.

"The conditions highlighted in the videos have existed for years now," a doctor at one of these hospitals stressed. "Sadly, it has taken a pandemic for people to realise our healthcare system is bursting at its seams." Some point out that this overcrowding of hospital beds is happening in areas close to Dharavi, one of Asia’s biggest slums that has emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot.

“There is definitely a shortage of beds for critical care,” a doctor from the COVID-19 ward in Mumbai’s Guru Nanak hospital told The Guardian. “There is a lot of infrastructure and planning which is happening, but the magnitude of the cases is overwhelming us all.”

A spokesperson from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) justified this by saying that there were enough beds but no coordination with “other agencies”, promising that more makeshift facilities would be equipped to handle the public health crisis by the end of the week. However, this is also a result of the lack of private sector involvement, which has led to public healthcare systems being overloaded.

Many private hospitals were initially reluctant to admit coronavirus patients or were charging exorbitant rates to do so. Last week, the government of Maharashtra promised that private hospitals in the state’s capital city would dedicate 80 percent of resources to treat COVID-19 patients at reduced rates. But, Dr Avinash Bhondwe, the Maharashtra president of the Indian Medical Association, told the BBC that while 3,000 doctors were willing to get involved, they have not been able to obtain PPEs at standardised rates to protect them.

Another concern is that even if Mumbai does ramp up its efforts to fight coronavirus, the situation will only get worse once monsoon sets in as this will lead to a rise in diseases like malaria and dengue. Considering reports of non-COVID related patients being denied treatment across India keep coming up, it creates a precarious situation for an already overwhelmed healthcare system.

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