Published on April 28, 2021

AHMEDABAD: Naseem Belim, a resident of Santalpur in Patan, reels under the shock of losing her maternal aunt Alima, 80, to Covid pandemic. “I took her in an auto and travelled for nearly 100 km in and around our village, but not a single hospital – private or government-run – could get us a bed with oxygen,” she recounts.

But what shocked her was the waiting of 50 patients at a government hospital. “They took my number and promised to call once the bed is available. Meanwhile, my aunt died on Monday due to Covid complications and we buried her. But as of Tuesday evening, we are still to hear from the hospital – apparently, we have not moved up the wait list,” says a distraught Naseem.

But it’s not just her who’s in a perennial queue – across the state the ever-deepening divide between existing supply and exponential rise in demand is driving many patients to death.

Overall rise in response time has affected non-Covid patients

The family of Bipin Chauhan, 78, a resident of Ghodasar, is witness to fatal consequences of the delay. An ex-government teacher at Lambha, Chauhan started developing complications on the night of April 24.

“We immediately called EMRI 108 for help. They assured us of help. But we kept on waiting. He was out of breath and could not survive the night even as we scurried for oxygen and beds in private and government hospitals. We performed his last rites on the morning of April 25,” said his son Alpesh. “In the afternoon, we got a call from the ambulance to get him, which was already very late.”

The overall rise in response time has also affected non-Covid patients, too. Vinod Parmar, a resident of Sola, lost his grandmother due to age-related complications. “We got a call to get her to the hospital after we were done with her cremation, about 20 hours after the first call,” he said.

EMRI officials said that despite rapid expansion of their fleet, it’s virtually impossible to keep up with the demand.

“One must understand that compared to the average 3,000-5,000 calls we used to attend daily, the volume has crossed 55,000. Moreover, against the general turnaround time (time for the ambulance to return to its original position after a call), which was 60 minutes for urban areas and 90 minutes for rural areas, it’s now counted in hours,” said a senior official, adding that they value every life and are trying their level best to reduce the wait.

But sometimes it’s the hours saved that could save lives. Sudhir Mulani, a resident of Vejalpur, lost his father to Covid last week. “He had a negative RAT, but as he had all the symptoms, he was advised RTPCR. The delay started from there itself as we lost two days. Thereafter, the call to EMRI 108 at 4.30 pm resulted in their calling us back at 2.30 am – after 10 hours. Meanwhile we took him to Civil Hospital after failing to get bed anywhere else,” he recounted.

Even after admission, he had to wait to get an ICU bed. “He succumbed to the complications after spending just a day in ICU,” he said.

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