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In Ghaziabad, black fungus burns a hole: Up to 1 lakh a day

After having spent a fortune on Covid-19 treatment, many families thought their troubles had breathed a sigh of relief
By Peeyush Khandelwal, Ghaziabad
PUBLISHED ON MAY 24, 2021 11:34 PM IST

After having spent a fortune on Covid-19 treatment, many families thought their troubles had breathed a sigh of relief. But now, cases of mucromycosis, also called black fungus, are inflicting more damage.

Covid treatment is free in government hospitals, but at private hospitals, even after the Uttar Pradesh government’s cap, is expensive for many. Similarly, treatment costs for black fungus can go up to 1 lakh a day at a private facility as the only drug used to treat it -- amphotericin injection -- and surgeries are expensive.

Sihani resident Pushpendra Kumar is a contractual worker and earns 13,000 a month. His father, 57-year-old Raja Ram, tested positive for Covid-19 and was discharged on May 7. That costed him 4.5 lakh.

“On May 14, my father developed headache and his eyes seemed dilated. On May 18, his complications increased, and we took him to another hospital where he was diagnosed with black fungus. My family started running around to Delhi, Meerut and Ghaziabad to arrange for amphotericin, but we could not find any,” said Kumar. “He died on May 20. Treating the fungal infection costed me 80,000 per day.”

Raja Ram’s doctor, Dr BP Tyagi, senior ENT surgeon at Harsh ENT Hospital at Raj Nagar District Centre, confirmed the death due to black fungus.

“The infection had spread to his nose, eyes and brain and despite all efforts he could not be saved,” said Dr Tyagi. “We have 27 such cases and all had recovered from Covid and uncontrolled diabetes.”

The cost of an amphotericin injection is around 5,000 and patients are administered multiple doses depending on severity.

“Patients with mild infection are administered 2-3 injections per day while moderate patients require about five. Those with severe infection require about 10 per day. So, this increases the cost considerably, besides the staff involved during the treatment are hired at high salaries due to the risk involved,” said Dr Tyagi.

Black fungus has been found mostly among people with uncontrolled diabetes, whose immunity is compromised, or among people who are given excessive steroids or immunity-modulating drugs such as tocilizumab. According to doctors, if left untreated, it could kill up to 80% of those infected. If not detected early, it affects the orbit of the eye and the mouth, resulting in people losing their vision or jaw during debridement — the process of removing dead tissue from an infection or wound.

Officially, there are 41 black fungus cases in Ghaziabad.

Dr Ashish Agarwal, president of the Indian Medical Association (Ghaziabad), said that the government supply of amphotericin, which is restricted to only hospitals via the UP Medical Supplies Corporation, should be increased.

“In April when remdesivir was required to treat Covid-19, its black-marketing started. Now, we again have short supply of amphotericin,” said Dr Agarwal. “It is up to the health department to ensure that patients do not have to run around getting the drug. ENT (ear-nose-throat) surgeons say that they cannot operate on patients without amphotericin.”

Ghaziabad chief medical officer Dr NK Gupta said that the district health department had two ENT surgeons and hired a general surgeon recently.

“At present, we do not have availability of super specialists, but they are available with private hospitals. All black fungus patients are getting treated at private hospitals,” Gupta said.

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