A pregnant woman in Agra had to endure labour for 10 hours and then lose her baby as she was denied treatment allegedly due to lack of surgical gloves. While we keep an eye on the tally of COVID-19 cases and fatality, we are yet to comprehend fully what this pandemic has cost us. Although the onus of these tragic loses doesn’t lie with the pandemic, it lies with us and the apathy that we have shown for decades to infrastructural problems in this country that we shrugged away with a “chalta hai yaar.”

Should we be blaming community health care centre (CHC) solely for this woman’s loss? It has been two months since we went into a lockdown to contain coronavirus, why then do hospitals still have to struggle with procuring PPE for their staff on a day to day basis? Are we responsible in some way if we have been hoarding on gloves and masks and using them recklessly, instead of leaving them for those who need it more; the doctors, nursing staff, essential services providers?

Denied any treatment at the hospital till 3 am, I took back my wife home. Early on May 19, she fell unconscious.I took her to a private hospital in the city.

35-year-old wife Guddi Devi was taken to a CHC in Etmadpur block on 18 May at 9: 30 pm, after she began having labour pains. Guddi’s husband has said in a complaint to the Agra district magistrate that the staff their refuse to treat her due to lack of surgical gloves, as per a report in The Times Of India. “A woman staffer at the hospital who examined her asked me to take her home and come the next day. I pleaded with them to admit her, as she was in pain and start the treatment, but to no avail,” Guddi’s husband Anil said.

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Anil then called Etmadpur sub-divisional magistrate for help, but he alleged that the CHC staffers misbehaved with him since he put a complaint with the officer. “Around 11 pm, I was asked to bring a pair of surgical gloves before they could begin her treatment. Due to the lockdown and this being the late hour, I was not able to get the glove even after searching for more than an hour. Denied any treatment at the hospital till 3 am, I took back my wife home. Early on May 19, she fell unconscious. I took her to a private hospital in the city,” said Anil, adding, “After conducting an ultrasound, the doctors told me that the child had died in the womb.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • 35-year-old woman from Agra endured labour for 10 hours and lost her baby after allegedly being denied treatment at a CHC.
  • The staffers refused to treat her due to shortage of gloves, as per her husband’s account.
  • How did Guddi’s plight fail to move even one healthcare worker to find a solution here?
  • Although if PPE is in shortage, does the blame for Guddi’s loss lie solely with CHC workers?

The apathy of the hospital staff that reflects in Anil’s account is enraging. Can we afford to lose humanity even when dealing with a pandemic? Why did the staff choose to engage in an altercation with Anil, when that time could have been clearly utilized to help Guddi? How did her situation fail to move not one staffer at CHC, how did not a single person come forward to help her? But then, can we entirely blame the CHC staff here?

Lack of supplies, proper equipment and sheer lack of manpower in the health care sector has been staring at us for years while we conveniently chose to ignore it. According to a study based on National Sample Survey Organisation, India has roughly 20.6 health workers per 10,000 population. A 2015 report titled Rural Health System in India: A Review by Neelmani Jaysawal quotes government data, revealing that, “49.7 per cent of sub-centres, 78 per cent of Primary Health Centress (PHCs) and 91.5 per cent of CHCs are located in dilapidated government buildings. There are 12,760 hospitals having 576,793 beds in the country. Out of these, 6795 hospitals are in rural areas with 149,690 beds and 3,748 hospitals are in urban areas with 399,195 beds.” This is the system that is being put to test by he pandemic.

Is it fare to expect healthcare staff to go on their duty without having the protection of basic PPE to shield them from this deadly infection?

The Ministry of Textiles on March 18 said that the Health Ministry will need more than 700,000 protective coveralls, six million N-95 masks and 10 million 3-ply masks until the end of May. Add to that the panic buying in urban and rural spaces of disposable gloves and surgical masks along with sanitisers.

Where does it leave the overburdened healthcare system of the country? Is it fare to expect healthcare staff to go on doing their duty without having the protection of basic PPE to shield them from this deadly infection? Isn’t Delhi still reeling from the allegations that nurses are being made to reuse PPE, which surfaced after the death of a nurse? Read more on that here.

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There are no easy answers here. Not one entity to dump the blame on. The blame for Guddi’s loss goes beyond the Etmadpur CHC and thus, the solution isn’t blaming the staffers solely. We have to pose the right questions to the right authorities, and do it fast. Before another woman suffers unjustly due to our lack of preparedness.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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