“All 150 beds here have arrangements for oxygen,” Baba Ramdev, the self-styled yoga guru, ABP News anchor Rubika Liyaqat on May 4. He was promoting the Covid care centre run by his company, Patanjali, in Haridwar, a collaboration with the Uttarakhand government. “If anyone is critical, we have ICUs. If the infection is severe, we have ventilators as well.”
Newslaundry visited the Haridwar centre – formerly a hospital for Kumbh Mela pilgrims – and found that Ramdev’s claims are either misleading, or outright false. Only 50 of the 150 beds are operational, as of May 10, and there’s no ICU bed. The ventilators aren’t functional either. There’s a shortage of doctors, ward boys and housekeeping staff, limiting the facility’s capacity and forcing it to refer patients elsewhere.
The facility does not have proper water supply and Covid wards don’t have roofs, risking widespread transmission.
Yet, TV news channels uncritically allowed Ramdev to these claims, likely to millions of viewers, and simultaneously advertise a range of tablets, capsules and powders by Patanjali, his multi-crore conglomerate dealing in herbal products. The company, in fact, has lately been one of the on TV news channels.
The Covid centre was inaugurated on May 3, with Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat in attendance. In TV interviews, Ramdev emphasised that the centre would provide a “holistic” treatment for Covid – a mixture of allopathy and ayurveda and yoga.
The marriage of allopathy and ayurveda, however, is not as holistic Ramdev makes it out to be, with untested drugs such as Patanjali’s Coronil prescribed to the patients.
The Patanjali Covid care centre in Haridwar.
ICU not functional
The Covid centre stands a few kilometres ahead of Haridwar’s Har ki Pauri, a famous ghat on the river Ganga.
Dr SK Soni, the centre’s chief medical superintendent, said only 50 of the 150 beds are operational, all with oxygen supply. And none of the 10 available ventilators have been put to work because of the lack of staff, he added.
“We need round-the-clock manpower. We are facing a shortage of staff, especially those trained in allopathy,” he explained. “There are doctors-in-training from Ayurveda colleges, but they cannot be used for allopathic care.”
There is one emergency area at the facility and three wards. An official in charge of staff said they need at least 10 allopathic doctors per shift but have to make do with one or two. And the facility has only 90 ward boys, he added, when it needs around 130.
A roofless Covid ward in Patanjali centre.
Contrary to Ramdev’s claims, the centre’s ICU beds are not functional. Newslaundry obtained a letter written by Soni to Haridwar’s divisional officer and chief medical officer on May 7. He complained that the two anesthetic specialists deployed for the ICU ward were absent. “The ICU technician is also not available,” he added. “Hence, the operation of the ICU ward is interrupted. This is why we will be unable to recruit patients in the ICU until appropriate specialists and staffers are available."
In his letter, Soni highlighted four other problems – there were no staffers to clean the facility’s toilets, making them unhygienic; the water supply was bad, leaving the facility dirty; the Covid wards didn’t have roofs, increasing risk of virus transmission; the x-ray machine had no technician and pathologist to operate it.
Soni told Newslaundry that because of the lack of trained staff and non-functional ICU ward and ventilators, the centre isn’t admitting patients with oxygen levels below 70, which he believes is a critical stage of the infection. There were 30-40 Covid patients being treated at the centre on May 7.
‘My mother was refused admission’
Narendra Payaal, a resident of Rishikesh, arrived at the facility with his mother Sarita, 48, on May 7. She had tested positive for coronavirus on May 4 and her oxygen level had dropped to 35. They were turned away.
“Friends and relatives told us Patanjali had opened a Covid hospital in Haridwar where facilities were available," he said. “There was publicity also. But when we arrived my mother was refused admission because they do not have an ICU bed and ventilators."
Sarita was shifted to the Doon Hospital in Dehradun. Her condition is critical.
"If you do not have beds and oxygen, then tell us so. If we had known we would not have come here," Narendra fumed. “Covid patients are dying because of a delay of one or two minutes in getting treatment. They should understand this."
Kavita Gupta, from Haridwar, admitted her son Sunil, 32, to the centre on the morning of May 7. Kavita said while her son’s oxygen saturation had dropped to 88, he wasn’t getting proper treatment. "Nobody has tended to my son since morning,” Kavita told Newslaundry. “He’s given oxygen but not any medicine.”
Kavita had Sunil discharged later that day and taken to a private hospital in Roorkee. His condition is stable.
“We had seen and heard a lot about this hospital,” said Gaurav, Sunil’s brother-in-law. “We had confidence in them. But clearly not enough is being done here.”
According to Soni, at least five patients succumbed to Covid at the facility between May 4 and May 7.
Kavita Gupta outside the Covid centre.
Coronil and a lot of smoke
Soni told Newslaundry that patients at the Patanjali centre are given Coronil as part of their treatment.
Coronil, a Patanjali herbal product once marketed as a remedy for Covid, isn’t part of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s for the treatment of the disease.
Although the product has been certified as a “supportive treatment” for Covid by the Ayush ministry, the Madras High Court Patanjali Rs 10 lakh for “chasing profits” and claiming Coronil was a cure for the infection in August last year.
In a corner of the facility’s waiting area is a shirodhara, a stone slab with a pot hanging over one end. It’s for an ayurvedic therapy where a person lies down under the pot, with a purportedly healing liquid dripping on his head.
A shirodhara at the Covid centre.
Abhishek Dev, a Patanjali representative at the Haridwar centre, told Newslaundry the shirodhara is used on all Covid patients to “increase their immunity and cure any skin problems”.
But medical professionals at the facility claimed the shirodhara hasn’t been put to any use yet.
Inside the mostly empty Covid wards, a man wearing white overalls moved around with a smouldering pot. While those short of breath might not like a lot of smoke, Dev insisted that this burning ayurvedic mixture “increased oxygen in the wards”.
A Patanjali priest walks around with burning herbs.
“Everyone knows allopathy and ayurveda are very different,” Soni said. “The government has given us allopathic staff while Patanjali has given us ayurvedic staff. There are bound to be some issues.”
What “issues”, precisely? Soni declined to elaborate.
Shambhu Jha, Haridwar’s chief medical officer, refused to entertain our questions about the Patanjali centre.
SK Tijarawala, public relations officer at Patanjali, refused to speak over the phone. So we sent him a set of questions. The story will be updated if we receive a response.
Pictures by Ayush Tiwari and Basant Kumar.