Deaths rise in Bengaluru slums amid low Covid-19 testing
Bengaluru: It was when his 49-year-old wife suddenly sat down on the floor, gasping for breath, that Hafiz Mohammad Abdullah, a resident of Gopalpura slum in Bengaluru, realised something was wrong. He rushed his wife to a nearby government hospital, where she was kept on oxygen support after her saturation levels had dropped to 40%. A couple of hours later, she passed away on 16 April. “The doctors had asked us to conduct a corona test (RT-PCR). Since she died before the test could be done, we were given the body and buried her,” Abdullah said.
Nazia Begum was among the many patients who didn’t make it to the government’s official tally of Covid-19 fatalities.
Barely 900 metres away, Siddalakahmi’s husband Mahesh passed away around the same time. The family believes he died of a heart attack. The mother of three said they had rushed him to the hospital after he complained of feeling uneasiness. After some tests at the hospital, he was declared dead. He was buried in a public burial ground. While she is unaware of the treatment given to him, she remembers that oxygen was administered.
Okalipuram ward in Bengaluru, which consists of multiple slums, there have been at least 16 non-Covid deaths, where the family members and other contacts have been tested. Nazia and Mahesh were among them. While Siddalakshmi continues to believe her 52-year-old husband died of a heart attack and goes about her day, Abdullah says he has been confined to his home. Neither got a Covid-19 test.
Veena, a transsexual woman, who has been working in the ward since the first wave of the Covid-19, said there is a fear among people to admit that their families have got the virus. “I can’t tell if all 16 deaths in the last one month were Covid-19 patients…In many cases, there are symptoms suggesting Covid,” she said.
A member of an NGO working in the locality said that testing of people in the slums have been ineffective. “There were no mass testing drives conducted in the slums, even though they were high-risk area. We can’t completely blame authorities even people were against such camps. But there are several Covid-19 deaths that have gone unreported here. Now the government has decided to test those who are symptomatic,” the NGO worker said.
A few km away in KP Agarahara, in one of the slum areas, the body of 66-year-old Nagalakshmi was found on April 20 in her house. It has been at least a couple of days before the body of the woman, who was living alone, was spotted by neighbours. In the house, they found a document dated April 17, in which she was tested positive for Covid-19 in an antigen test.
“Removing her body took time as we had to contact the BBMP for PPE kits. When we asked the BBMP about why she was not contacted or had any follow-up calls even though she had tested positive, officials said they had no information about her testing positive,” said Rajesh K, a local activist, who arranged for her funeral.
Rajesh said there have been at least 20 deaths in the slums around KP Agrahara. These were not tested positive for Covid and many of them died at home.
For Rajesh and other volunteers, the biggest concern is vaccination. “We want more people to get vaccinated, but there are two problems. First, people are not coming forward to get themselves vaccinated. The death of Tamil actor (Vivek) and misinformation about it has been a big problem. People think they would die after taking the vaccine,” he said.
The second problem, according to him is BBMP workers’ focus on getting their targets met. “Health workers who were earlier helping with the testing now have the responsibility to administer the vaccine and they have a target. So, to meet these targets, they are going to Majestic (Kempegowda bus terminal) where they are able to get more people and slum areas are being affected. We are now trying to create a vaccine centre on our own and get BBMP officials to set up a camp here,” he said.
In Rayapuram ward too, which has several slums, 15 deaths were reported in the last 10 days, in which 10 were related to Covid-19 complications. While primary contacts have been tested in many of the cases, for the residents getting medical facilities has been the problem.
With ambulances charging up to ₹40,000, a volunteer group called Rayapuram Covid Warriors, has set aside three autorickshaws to transport patients. They have also converted the Ambedkar Bhavan nearby into a temporary Covid centre. Despite these efforts, deaths continue in the locality.
Venkatesha, a resident of Rayapuram, took his 42-year-old wife Peddamma to several hospitals in search of an oxygen bed. “We searched for two days and in the end took her back home. She died at home. We thought at least she will die with all of us around her,” said Venkatesha.