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‘Some patients die while waiting’: Doctors in India plead for international help

COVID-19 continues to decimate India’s health-care system and doctors there say the current situation is grim.

The virus is killing thousands daily and Tuesday marked a sixth straight day of the country breaking the global record for the number of new COVID-19 cases, hitting more than 320,000.

“The health-care system in India, both public and private, is literally bursting at its seams,” said Dr. Arvinder Soin, the chief surgeon at Medanta, a hospital near New Delhi. Like many others, the hospital is dealing with a surge of patients and a shortage of oxygen supplies, creating a deadly combination.

“People come to the emergency room, the hospitals, then they keep waiting for hours, they don’t find a bed. Unfortunately, some of them die while waiting,” Soin said. He explained he works at one of the best hospitals in India, but it is still completely overwhelmed.

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The country’s Ministry of Health reported Tuesday that more than 2,700 people died in the past 24 hours. That’s roughly 115 deaths every 60 minutes. India’s funeral services are also under extreme stress, leading to startling scenes of mass burials and cremations across the country.

“They were just loading up bodies in trucks and taking them to the crematorium,” described Junisha Dama who lives in the western city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat. She said there is a lack of leadership and the health crisis has spun out of control.

“I’m constantly getting reports of family, friends, or others who are unfortunately not surviving; so it is a scary situation,” said Dama whose sister works in a COVID-19 laboratory and has warned her the situation will only get worse before it gets better.

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For those on the other side of the world who have family in India, not being able to travel to see their loved ones during the pandemic has felt paralyzing.

“Many South Asians are essentially fighting two battles, both here in their home country and in India… it’s heartbreaking,” said Sabina Vohra-Miller who lives in Peel Region — one of the largest Indian diasporas. She has daily calls with a coalition of doctors to help figure out what aid they need to send to India.

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Vohra-Miller, who is also the co-founder of the South Asian Health Network, said there’s a number of things Canada can do to help.

“It has to waive IP [intellectual property] patents for vaccines… we need to ensure global and equitable access to vaccines.”

Just months ago, India supplied a number of countries – including Canada — with vaccines. Now, those on the front line of the fight against COVID-19 in India are asking for the same in return.

Click to play video: India’s COVID crisis has B.C. families worried

“We need global solidarity to end a global pandemic,” said Dr. Swapneil Parikh who works as an internal medicine physician in Mumbai.

“Many parts of the world should look at India right now and recognize that until we have a sizable number of people who have been vaccinated across the world, we need to be very careful about how we lift restrictions,” Parikh said.

And even in the middle of a health crisis, doctors in India are trying to find the positive. Soin said compared to the first wave, this time around, health-care workers are really stepping up to take care of COVID-19 patients.

“They’re emboldened by the fact most of them have been vaccinated. I generally see a lot of purpose and dedication amongst all the health-care workers at all the hospitals,” Soin said. He added that health-care workers who have tested positive but who are asymptomatic are continuing to work in COVID-19 hospital wards.

“So we are all trying to do our best.”

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