Most Indians needed clout and connections to get Covid ICU beds in recent months

Desperate times.
Desperate times.
Image: Reuters/Amit Dave
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As India’s Covid crisis worsens, getting a hospital bed is becoming a stroke of luck for many.

In the last 45 days, over 55% of Indians who needed an ICU bed had to use connections and clout to get a covid ICU bed, according to a survey of over 17,000 citizens across 309 districts by community-led social media platform LocalCircles.

For some of them, that alone wasn’t enough. They also ran from pillar to post, following up extensively, calling helplines and sharing their ordeals on social media, and in some cases even complaining to the government.

A meagre 13% of those who needed a Covid ICU bed were able to get it through the routine process. 

Indian healthcare is crumbling amid the raging second wave. Over 88% of Delhi’s, 90% of Bengaluru’s, and 98% of Mumbai’s intensive care unit (ICU) beds are occupied. In Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, too, hospitals are quickly running out of hospital beds.

The government is trying to increase capacity. Mumbai is due to get three jumbo field hospitals with 200 ICU beds each within the next month and a half. The Delhi government ordered private hospitals to free 50% of their ICU beds and wards for Covid-19 patients.

Shortage of Covid-19 THE drugs Remdesivir, Tocilizumab

A similar crisis is occurring with drug procurement. More than eight in 10 people who needed Covid management drugs had to resort to finding it through clout and connections or via overpayment and bribes. 

“The process by design is supposed to be such that these drugs are supplied by manufacturers via distributors to the hospitals directly. However, many hospitals do not have the drug and are instead asking patients to secure it if they can,” LocalCircles explained. “This has led to widespread panic, hoarding, real and artificial shortages, and hence black-marketing is taking place rampantly.”

While the effectiveness of drugs like Remdesivir and Tocilizumab is up for debate, their demand remains high with doctors prescribing them throughout the country. With supply constraints once again, the black market for these drugs has resurfaced. These sellers charge exorbitant prices. A 100mg vial of Remdesivir, for instance, sells at Rs24,000—five times its retail price.