ON THE NIGHT OF April 23, Samridhi Diwan and her father drove around New Delhi, India’s capital city, from one hospital to another, searching for a facility that would admit Diwan’s mother, who was infected with SARS-CoV-2 and needed immediate medical attention. Amid a record-shattering surge of Covid-19 cases, they could find nothing. “We drove around all night, to at least nine hospitals,” said Diwan. The family finally procured a bed at a distant facility the next day, but their nightmare wasn’t over. They were told that the hospital was short of liquid oxygen — a critical component in the care of many patients with moderate to severe Covid-19. The family would need to obtain the potentially lifesaving medical supply on their own.
Across India, thousands of families have been given the herculean task of obtaining their own oxygen and other medical necessities in the midst of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak. And yet, sources told Undark that scarcity is not the largest challenge. Rather, supply chain issues combined with governmental inefficiency have exacerbated an already precarious situation.
In interviews with Undark, physicians, families, and volunteers described grim scenes of suffering and ineptitude. “We were not prepared for the second wave,” said Aqsa Sheikh, a physician and associate professor of community medicine at Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research in New Delhi. “We didn’t develop our infrastructure in terms of ICUs or oxygen generation plants” or other health care resources. “It’s been a total failure of the government,” she said, while also blaming what she described as “irresponsible behavior on the part of the public.”
Still, several sources pointed out that residents of India have rallied to help connect patients with much-needed supplies. “I can’t even tell you how many people come forward to volunteer with us,” said Preeti Sharma Menon, a political activist and spokesperson for the center-left Aam Aadmi Party. She currently oversees a 24-hour Covid-19 helpline in Mumbai. Journalists, homemakers, businesspeople — all have offered their support, Sharma Menon said. And while they haven’t been able to help everyone, she acknowledged, they are certainly trying.