The 26-year-old outreach worker for HIV-positive women like herself died on Tuesday after allegedly being denied admission to Bhagwati Hospital the previous day.
Vandana, mother of a seven-year-old girl who she hoped would become a doctor some day, died while being rushed to JJ Hospital, 30 km away from her home in the Malwani slum Gaikwad Nagar.
Vandana’s husband Suresh (name changed) and colleagues say her death could have been averted had she been admitted by Bhagwati. "At 10.30 pm on Monday, I rushed Vandana to Bhagwati as she was having difficulty breathing and was in intense pain.
The doctor on duty demanded she answer his questions even though she could not speak, and then refused to admit her. I took her to Govind Nagar Hospital from there, where they did a through check-up. But the hospital is ill-equipped and advised us to take her to Cooper Hospital," Suresh said.
Suresh, also HIV-positive and partly paralysed, could not take her to Cooper and got Vandana back home. "On Tuesday morning, we called a private doctor who declared her critical and told us to hospitalise her immediately. So, given our previous experience, we took her to JJ."
Anthony D’Souza, of Sanmitra Trust which works in HIV-prevention and care-and-support services, had just hired Vandana to work with HIV-positive sex workers in the Malwani’s red-light area. He said: "The family hired a private ambulance despite the fact that they could not afford it. But Vandana died on the way to JJ at 12.30 pm."
Bhagwati’s Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr V Bhatt denied that they had refused admission to Vandana. "We didn’t refer any patient to JJ or deny admission to anyone. We simply do not do it," she said.
Additional Municipal Commissioner in charge of health Kishore Gajbhiye told Hindustan Times: "If the family’s allegations are true, it is a serious matter and it must be checked. They should approach me."
But Prabha Desai, a professor at Patkar College and head of Sanmitra, said this was not the first such instance. "We might not be able to establish discrimination, but it is certainly one of mismanagement. HIV-positive patients who can be saved by being put on oxygen are left high and dry. And since they carry the virus, death comes more swiftly, as it happened with Vandana."
Vena Johari, of the Lawyers’ Collective, which works for the rights of AIDS patients, said the case constituted a denial of Vandana’s right to life. "The Supreme Court and the government have laid down that no hospital can deny admission to an emergency patient."
Desai added: "With proper treatment, Vandana could have lived for 20 to 25 years more. She was beautiful and talented. It is hard to believe she is dead."