AMU doctors, teachers recall the situation they faced during the second wave of COVID-19
“It is like rubbing salt on the wounds of the injured,” said Md Kashif, president of Resident Doctors’ Association of Aligarh Muslim University’s (AMU) Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital (JNMCH). He was reacting to the Health Ministry’s statement in the Rajya Sabha that there was no data to show deaths had occurred due to oxygen shortage in the second wave of COVID-19. “More importantly, the statement gives the bureaucracy a sense of relief that if such a big lacuna in infrastructure could be papered over, they don’t need to worry,” said Dr. Kashif.
According to official sources, the AMU lost 22 staff members during the second wave and 19 of them died at the JNMCH.
“Thankfully, none of the patients died because of lack of oxygen at the JNMCH but everybody knows that there was a shortage of oxygen during the second wave because the healthcare system was not prepared to fight the unprecedented situation,” said Dr. Kashif, adding they had to turn away patients because the hospital’s 300 oxygen beds were occupied. It was perhaps the first time, he said, that the liquid oxygen plant was running to full capacity and even a slight drop in pressure could increase the severity of disease in patients who required high flow oxygen.
“We know that no doctor would write that the cause of death was shortage of oxygen but what’s the harm in showing some sensitivity and admitting that one of the factors behind the severity of disease and death was shortage of oxygen?” asked Dr. Kashif.
He said that for a few days there had been no explicit guideline for the general public on how to use industry-grade oxygen. “Such cylinders are not properly maintained and their use perhaps contributed to the rise in the cases of mucormycosis. All over the world, steroids were used, but India reported a high number of cases of black fungus,” he argued.
Prof. Najmul Islam, honorary secretary of the AMU Teachers’ Association, said that as the statement had been made in a sacred space, they would not like to doubt it. “But then, the government should tell us what the cause of so many deaths in such a short period of time was. The general perception in society is that there was shortage of oxygen. If the reality was otherwise, the nation should know,” remarked Prof. Islam. “Also, if there was no shortage, why has a new oxygen plant been built, and another is being assembled in JNMCH from the PM Cares Fund?”
Prof. Haris M. Khan, Medical Superintendent, JNMCH, said the hospital catered to patients from not only Aligarh but also neighbouring districts such as Etah and Kasganj. “During the April-May period, patients from as far as Moradabad and Ghaziabad also sought admission because ostensibly, they could not find oxygen beds in their areas. “The supply from our liquid oxygen plant served us well but it could serve only up to 300 patients,” he said. “There were days when we feared that the supply will dry up but somehow it arrived at the last minute,” he added.
When the number of patients increased further, he said, they used oxygen cylinders. “But for two-three days, our trusted supplier from Mathura gave up for unknown reasons. It was during this period that we had to refuse admission,” he said.