As the second wave of COVID-19 batters Delhi, and stories of Delhi-ites dying on the streets because of lack of beds and oxygen cylinders continue to emerge, the rich have been able to insulate themselves by installing top-class medical facilities at home.
Dozens of hospitals in Delhi have issued SOSes recently regarding shortage of oxygen, but some of these same facilities are providing home services to the affluent class, in return for hefty fees.
Sales of ventilators and home ICU services have seen a huge spike in Delhi amid the pandemic. Wealthy Delhi-ites who are not infected are also hoarding oxygen concentrators, medicines, ventilators and high-end equipment.
Raman Khanna, a resident of south Delhi, has set up an ICU at home. “Why should I wait for something to happen? The way COVID is spreading, my family or I may get it sooner or later,” he said. “This is why we earn money, to save ourselves and our family. I don’t want to run here and there once we get exposed to the virus.”
A home healthcare service provider told The Federal that there are thousands of people like Khanna who have hoarded much-needed equipment. “We are struggling to meet the demands of hospitals as well as of the people who want to set up a home ICU,” he said on condition of anonymity.
An home ICU setup requires highly advanced and critical medical equipment such as a ventilator, para monitor, ICU bedside monitors, endotracheal tube, intravenous infusion pump, oxygen cylinder, suction machine, alpha mattress, nebuliser, DVT pump, indwelling urinary catheter, syringe driver, resuscitator bag, sequential compression devices, nasogastric tubes, etc. For these devices to run non-stop, it is important to have continuous power supply at home or a powerful generator backup.
At ₹7 to ₹10 lakh, the cost of setting up a home ICU is high, although maintaining it costs less than maintaining a hospital ICU. Doctors say the average maintenance cost of an ICU in a hospital per day is between ₹25,000 and ₹30,000. A fully functional ICU setup at home costs around ₹7,000 to ₹10,000 per day.
There are now numerous companies in Delhi that set up home ICUs. “Before the pandemic, there were not many companies that provided such facilities. But from last March till date, 43 such companies have been registered in Delhi,” said Vikas Kaushik, a chartered accountant.
If people don’t want to buy ICU equipment, these companies also provide renting options. Big healthcare players such as Fortis and Apollo have also started renting ICUs. They charge somewhere between ₹50,000 and ₹60,000 per day for the service.
“From basic COVID care at home for mild patients, we are now flooded with requests for intermediary care for moderate patients since the availability of a hospital bed has become a real challenge,” Vishal Bali, co-founder of Nightingales Home Healthcare Service said.
As the rich ride out the pandemic, ordinary residents of Delhi continue to face hardships.
Prajapati Sahay said: “We tried for four days to get an oxygen cylinder in Delhi but couldn’t arrange one. The relative for which we were trying to get it died. There were no beds in hospitals. The hospitals that had beds did not have oxygen. At the same time, the rich, who are privileged, are hoarding oxygen cylinders. This should be made illegal as it is a crime against humanity.”
The Delhi High Court also urged residents not to hoard oxygen cylinders and medicines as the second wave of the coronavirus batters the Indian healthcare system.
“Hoarding leads to artificial scarcity to an extent which may not be there,” a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said. “We appeal to the good sense of people to not resort to black marketing and hoarding of oxygen cylinders or medicines and to make them available to the needy.”