MP’s flip-flop on Bhopal gas hospital reflects its flailing fight against COVID-19

26 May 2020
Doctors collect samples from workers at a market area in Bhopal during COVID-19 testing. The Madhya Pradesh government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been marked by poor planning that left its residents, particularly the survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy, vulnerable to the infection.
SANJEEV GUPTA / EPA-EFE
Doctors collect samples from workers at a market area in Bhopal during COVID-19 testing. The Madhya Pradesh government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been marked by poor planning that left its residents, particularly the survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy, vulnerable to the infection.
SANJEEV GUPTA / EPA-EFE

At  around 2 am on 2 April, 52-year-old Naresh Khatik complained of uneasiness and shortness of breath. His son, Gaurav, said he went to two nearby hospitals to seek treatment for his father, but the hospitals refused to admit him because they said they were not equipped to treat patients showing COVID-19 symptoms. Naresh was a survivor of the world’s worst industrial disaster—the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984. Ordinarily, Gaurav would have taken his father to the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre, a super-speciality hospital that was setup to exclusively cater to survivors of the gas tragedy and their dependents. But on 23 March, the state government had turned the hospital into a facility exclusively dedicated for care to COVID-19 patients.

Around one hour after he first complained of breathlessness, Naresh's family was forced to admit him at the Narmada Trauma Centre, an expensive hospital in a posh residential area. On the night of 5 April, Gaurav said he received a call informing him that his father had tested positive and would be shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhopal. A little later, the hospital administration invited him to a chamber and accused him of hiding information about his father from them. He said they then told him that his father’s condition was fast deteriorating. “It was around 11 pm. They told me they were unable to save my father,” Gaurav told me. Naresh died that night.

“When my father heard about the coronavirus and the lockdown to crush the spread of virus, he warned me saying gas victims are going to be on high risk, because most of us have breathing problem and are unable to do heavy jobs,” Gaurav said. Naresh Khatik suffered from a weak pulmonary system, and had contracted pneumonia in 2015. He was the first victim of the gas tragedy to die of COVID-19. By 15 April, five more victims of the gas tragedy—Jagannath Maithil, Rajkumar Yadav, Ashfaq Nadvi, Imran Khan and Yunus Khan—had contracted the novel coronavirus and died.

Anup Dutta is an independent journalist based in Bhopal.

Keywords: COVID-19 Madhya Pradesh Bhopal gas tragedy Indian Council of Medical Research
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