Naresh Khatik, 52, who had survived the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, became one of the victims of COVID-19 on April 5. He would have survived this crisis as well had the state government not turned the hospital dedicated for gas mishap victims into a facility for coronavirus patients, claimed his son.
Khatik experienced breathing problems on the night of April 3. But when his son Gaurav dialled the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC), he was told the facility has been vacated and kept reserved only for novel coronavirus patients since March 24.
“I called up several hospitals for an ambulance, but on being told that my father was a gas victim, they refused. Most of them asked me take him to the BMHRC. However, after frantic attempts to several hospitals, representatives of Narmada Hospital agreed and sent an ambulance around 3 am,” said Gaurav.
Khatik was taken straightaway to the Intensive Care Unit and put on oxygen; his condition improved. “Next morning, we were asked to take him to the government hospital for coronavirus test. After spending nearly four hours in the hospital, they took his samples. I was told we will get the report within 24 hours,” said the son.
Gaurav said he received a call on April 5 evening and was informed his father has tested positive for COVID-19. “I informed the doctors at Narmada hospital about my father testing positive for coronavirus. His condition was stable on April 5, but he felt restless the next day and was put on ventilator. I was later informed that he passed away around 11.30 pm,” said Gaurav.
“The BMHRC is a dedicated hospital for victims of the gas tragedy. It has medical records of such patients and the doctors there are experienced in treating them. If it was open, I am sure my father would have been alive,” he added.
Gaurav’s family spent ₹90,000 for the treatment of his father whereas the treatment is completely free at BMHRC. He had even borrowed money from his friends and relatives for the treatment.
The BMHRC was established in 1998 on the directives of the Supreme Court to provide free treatment to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. At present, it has about 3.5 lakh registered patients.
However, this 350-bed multi-specialty hospital was shut for patients on March 24. Acting on a directive from the district administration, the BMHRC issued an order saying, “All healthcare services in the hospital will only be provided for COVID-19 patients and no one else.”
Not only was its OPD shut, the hospital also discharged more than 80 patients who were admitted there the same day. This included patients in ICU, ventilators and one undergoing dialysis. There are about 30 patients who undergo dialysis twice a week at this hospital.
One of the patients, Munni Bee, who was admitted in the ICU, had filed a petition along with the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) in the Supreme Court, challenging the state government’s order that the hospital be turned into a dedicated facility for COVID-19 patients.
The top court had on April 7 directed the petitioners to approach the Madhya Pradesh High Court, following which they filed a writ petition in the high court the same day. However, Munni Bee passed away two days later.
Rachna Dhingra of the BGIA said their plea was based on the premise that victims of Bhopal gas tragedy were more vulnerable than others to the coronavirus and that the BMHRC was the only super specialty hospital that could address their needs.
“The decision of the district administration came as a shock for the gas victims. The conversion of this hospital was a breach of the terms of the trust deed under which it was set up as per the Supreme Court directives,” said Dhingra.
The state government’s order was revoked on April 15, but shockingly, not a single patient was admitted to the BMHRC until then. Meanwhile, six COVID-19 deaths were reported in Bhopal, all of whom were victims of the gas mishap. The list includes Ashfaq Nadvi, Jagganath Maithil, Imran Khan, Rajkumar Yadav and Mohd Yunus.
The Bhopal gas tragedy was a gas leak incident that occurred at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh on the night of December 2, 1984. Lakhs of people were exposed to the toxic methyl isocyanate gas and over 2,000 people had died in the incident.