“If only we had proper healthcare facilities around here, my father would still have been with us,” said Puneet Vatsa, 27.
Puneet lives in Katewara, a village of about 3,500 people on the northern edge of Delhi. When the second wave of the pandemic hit the capital last month, it crashed over its outlying villages as well. There are 108 villages in the state of Delhi, mostly located along its periphery, which are home to over in total. Most of these villages lack adequate healthcare facilities, making it difficult for people affected with Covid to get proper care.
In Katewara, Narela, there’s a poorly equipped dispensary where the villagers can get tested for Covid but not treated. In fact, the villagers complained, doctors are rarely around. When Newslaundry visited the dispensary at around 3 pm on May 21, it was closed.
So, when Puneet’s father, Rajesh Kumar, 54, came down with coronavirus on April 12, he had to be admitted to Saroj Super Speciality Hospital, 20 km away. After over a month battling the virus, he died on May 17.
Rajesh is one of at least 31 people in the village to have died of Covid in the last 20 days, according to Deepak Khatri, chairman of the Village Development Committee, who issued their death certificates. “These are records of the people who died at home after contracting the virus,” he added. “The actual figure would be much more since we don’t take into account those who died in hospitals. We do not have their records.”
The Delhi government doesn’t provide Covid figures for rural and urban areas separately, although with municipal authorities. In total, Delhi has so far recorded over 14.2 lakh coronavirus infections and over 23,000 deaths, though the actual numbers are likely higher.
It’s a similar story in Sultanpur Dabas village in neighbouring Bawana.
Nittoo, who doesn’t use a second name, lost his mother, Azad Kaur, 53, to Covid on May 12. After she showed the symptoms, Nittoo, 32, took her to a local doctor on May 5 who tested her for Covid. She tested positive, and the doctor put her on a basic treatment regimen. But on May 12 her oxygen level dropped to 74.
Since the local dispensary as well as private clinics were closed, Nittoo consulted with a friend’s sister who is a doctor. She advised to give her more oxygen from a cylinder they had arranged. “Her oxygen level dipped further to 54,” he said.
Nittoo called an ambulance to take her to the Maharishi Valmiki Hospital, the only private hospital in the vicinity. “There was one doctor on duty and he refused to admit my mother. They did not have a bed for her,” Nittoo said.
The hospital’s chief medical officer, Jitendra Kumar, however, told Newslaundry that it wasn’t a designated facility for Covid treatment.
Nittoo then moved his mother to the LNJP Hospital, a public healthcare facility around 33 km from his village. By then her oxygen level had dropped even further. She died a few minutes later.
Sultanpur Dabas has lost at least 40 people to coronavirus in the past 20 days, according to several villagers we spoke with. And the villagers, like those in Katewara, blamed the government’s neglect of the public healthcare system. They complained that the local dispensary wasn’t equipped to treat Covid patients, beyond handing out medicines such as paracetamol for mild cases. So, the villagers are compelled to go to either private hospitals or government hospitals in the city.
“There is no Covid hospital in our area,” said Deepak, the Village Development Committee head who is associated with the governing Aam Aadmi Party. “If a person is in dire need of oxygen, we can’t rely on dispensaries.”
He complained that a new dispensary set up for his village and adjoining Qutubgarh by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, and inaugurated twice since 2015, was still not functional. “It has about a hundred beds and could easily have been converted into a Covid hospital,” he said.
But, he added, their repeated pleas to the government to make it functional have gone unheard.