Indian Hospitals Using Social Media to Beg for Oxygen as Country Sets COVID Record

Hospitals in India have taken to begging the government on social media to replenish their oxygen supplies.

A major private hospital, Max Hospital, tweeted on Thursday that it had one hour of oxygen left at one of its locations and was waiting for supplies since the morning. It also filed a petition on Tuesday in the Delhi High Court that it was running out of oxygen, putting 400 patients at risk of dying, according to the Associated Press.

India set a global record in daily infections for the second straight day with 332,730, and it is second only to the U.S. in overall cases, according to public data. With 16 million cases—and 2,263 deaths recorded in the past 24 hours—the country's underfunded health system is crumbling under the weight of what is now the world's worst coronavirus surge.

"It might become difficult for hospitals here to save lives," Manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister of Delhi, said during a Thursday press conference.

India's Supreme Court told Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on Thursday that it wanted a "national plan" on the supply of oxygen and essential drugs for the treatment of coronavirus patients.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

India oxygen
Workers arrange medical oxygen cylinders to transport to hospitals for COVID-19 treatment in a facility on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India, on April 23, 2021. (Photo by Noah SEELAM / AFP) (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images) Noah SEELAM/Getty Images

India put oxygen tankers on special express trains as major hospitals in New Delhi on Friday begged on social media for more supplies to save COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe.

The government started running Oxygen Express trains with tankers to meet the scramble at hospitals, Railroad Minister Piyush Goyal said.

"We have surplus oxygen at plants which are far off from places where it is needed right now. Trucking oxygen is a challenge from these plants," said Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association.

"We have ramped up the production as oxygen consumption is rising through the roof. But we have limitations and the biggest challenge right now is transporting it to where its urgently needed."

The New Delhi government issued a list of a dozen government and private hospitals facing an acute shortage of oxygen supplies.

At another hospital in the capital, questions were raised about whether low oxygen supplies had caused deaths.

The Press Trust of India reported 25 COVID-19 patients died at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in the past 24 hours and the lives of another 60 were at risk amid a serious oxygen supply crisis. The news agency quoted unnamed officials as saying "low pressure oxygen" could be the likely cause for their deaths.

However, Ajoy Sehgal, a hospital spokesperson, would not comment on whether the 25 patients died from a lack of oxygen. He said an oxygen tanker had just entered the hospital complex and hoped it would temporarily relieve the fast depleting supply.

New Delhi Television later cited the hospital chairman as saying the deaths cannot be ascribed to a lack of oxygen.

On the outskirts of Mumbai on Friday morning, a fire in a hospital intensive care unit killed 13 COVID-19 patients in the Virar area. It was the second deadly incident at a hospital this week.

The fire on the second-floor ICU was extinguished and some patients requiring oxygen were moved to nearby hospitals, said Dilip Shah, CEO of Vijay Vallabh hospital. Shah said there are 90 patients in the hospital, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of Mumbai, India's financial capital.

The cause of the fire is being investigated, he said. An explosion in the ICU air conditioning unit preceded the fire, PTI quoted government official Vivekanand Kadam as saying.

On Wednesday, 24 COVID-19 patients on ventilators died due to an oxygen leak in a hospital in Nashik, another city in Maharashtra state.

In New Delhi, Akhil Gupta was waiting for a bed for his 62-year-old mother, Suman. On April 2, she tested positive and was asymptomatic for 10 days. Then she developed a fever and started experiencing difficulty breathing.

For the next two days, her other sons, Nikhil and Akhil, drove around the city, visiting every hospital in search of a bed. Sometimes they took their mother with them, sometimes they went on their own. They looked everywhere, to no avail.

On Friday, they got their mother into the emergency room at the Max Hospital in Patparganj, where she was put on oxygen temporarily as she waited in line for a bed to open up inside.

"Now the doctors are asking us to take her away because they don't have enough oxygen to keep her in the emergency room. But we're not even getting any ambulance with oxygen to transport her to some other facility," said Akhil Gupta.

The family decided to stay at Max and continue waiting for a bed.

"What else can we do?" said Akhil.

A year ago, India was able to avoid the shortages of medical oxygen that plagued Latin America and Africa after it converted industrial oxygen manufacturing systems into a medical-grade network.

But many facilities went back to supplying oxygen to industries and now several Indian states face such shortages that the Health Ministry has urged hospitals to implement rationing.

The government in October began building new plants to produce medical oxygen, but now, some six months later, it remains unclear whether any have come on line, with the Health Ministry saying they were being "closely reviewed for early completion."

Tanks of oxygen are being shuttled across the country to hotspots to keep up with the demand, and several state governments have alleged that many have been intercepted by other states.

Ashok Kumar Sharma, 62, was finally put on oxygen Monday in his home in West Delhi. It only happened after days of frantically searching for an oxygen cylinder from various hospitals, clinics and private distributors.

"I called at least 60 people looking for oxygen, but everyone's numbers were switched off," said Kunal, Sharma's son.

Kunal's father was diagnosed with pneumonia on April 14, and a few days later, tested positive for COVID-19. The doctors recommended he be put on oxygen immediately. When Kunal could not find any, he put out an SOS on social media.

"But there is so much black marketeering going on. People contacted me selling cylinders for 3 times, 4 times the original price," said Kunal.

He finally acquired one from a personal contact.

"It's horrible how people are taking advantage of our helplessness," he said.

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