States still say no deaths took place due to oxygen shortage
Officials and ministers in eight states, where reports said an estimated 320 Covid-19 patients may have died due to shortage of medical oxygen, on Wednesday denied the fatalities took place due to the crisis of supply that emerged during India’s second wave of cases.
The Union health ministry told Parliament on Tuesday that none of the states had reported any deaths due to lack of oxygen, triggering criticism from multiple opposition leaders and prompting a rebuttal by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday.
According to volunteer-driven data collation effort DataMeet, media reports from 20 states suggested there were at least 619 deaths due to oxygen shortage – many of these, however, were disputed with subsequent inquiries attributing the fatalities to other causes.
But on Wednesday, officials and ministers in eight states were not willing to link fatalities with oxygen shortage alone, even as some of the leaders from their parties were accusing the Centre of hiding oxygen-linked deaths.
In Maharashtra, where 58 deaths were reported, state health minister Rajesh Tope said no death happened due to oxygen shortage.
“As far as Maharashtra is concerned, we have never said that any death due to oxygen shortage,” he told a TV channel on Wednesday. The state had, however, faced several short supplies in April and May, which at one point prompted chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to request prime minister Narendra Modi to explore the possibility of pressing the Indian Air Force into duty to arrange for supplies. Maharashtra’s Sanjay Raut on Wednesday was one of the leaders who criticised the Centre over its stand in parliament on Tuesday.
In Goa, 83 critically ill people succumbed to Covid-19 between May 10 and May 14. “We can’t put this as a direct answer. People who come to GMC, they are all referred cases because we are a tertiary (care) centre where criticality is high and most of the patients die because of Covid pneumonia where oxygen is a part of the treatment. So we cannot directly say this (disruption in the oxygen supply) is the reason why they have died,” said dean of Goa Medical College and Hospital, Dr Shivanand Bandekar said.
During a hearing at the time the deaths took place, the Bombay high court at Goa had said: “We have long passed the stage of determining whether patients are suffering from the lack of oxygen or not. The material placed before us establishes that patients are indeed suffering and even in some cases succumbing for want of the supply of oxygen, in the State of Goa”. In court, the Goa government had admitted that “some casualties may have taken place” due to supply disruption.
In Haryana, where 22 oxygen-related deaths purportedly took place, some inquiries were pending, at least one ruled out oxygen shortage as cause of deaths. But in one region – Hisar – a medical board established oxygen shortage as reason for deaths.
In Madhya Pradesh, the medical education minister Vishwas Sarang said no one died due to oxygen shortage. “We received at least 10-12 complaints related to deaths due to oxygen supply disruption. Medical experts found the cause of death was other medical complications, not hypoxia,” he said. According to DataMeet figures, reports suggested 65 people died in different hospitals due to lack of oxygen.
Similar stand was taken in several states, such as Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
“In fact, we have been praised for our supply of oxygen to other states,” said PK Mohapatra, Odisha’s additional chief secretary (health).
Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey said the state was able to manage its oxygen demand with cooperation from the Centre during the peak of the second wave pandemic and there were no deaths because of oxygen issues.
“In West Bengal there has been no death due to lack of Oxygen support,” said a top official of the state health department. However, at least two families had raised allegations of lack of oxygen after their patients died at a hospital in Uluberia.
Tamil Nadu’s health secretary J Radhakrishnan said there were no direct deaths in Tamil Nadu due to the lack of oxygen even though 13 patients died at the government hospital in Chengelpet district in first week of May when oxygen supply was disrupted overnight.
Health activist Amulya Nidhi from Madhya Pradesh said volunteer groups have case studies to show deaths because of oxygen shortage but the government was not ready to face facts. “If they are so sure about it, they should allow an independent team of experts to probe the matter,” he said.