More than a fifth of the country’s coronavirus cases are in Mumbai
MUMBAI: When Manit Parikh’s mother tested positive for the new coronavirus, she was rushed by ambulance to Mumbai’s private Lilavati Hospital, but officials told the family no critical-care beds were available.
Five hours and dozens of phone calls later the family found a bed for her at the private Bombay Hospital. A day later, on May 18, Parikh’s 92-year-old diabetic grandfather had breathing difficulties at home and was taken to the city’s Breach Candy Hospital, another top private facility, but there were no beds.
“My dad was pleading with them,” Parikh told Reuters. “They said they didn’t have a bed, not even a normal bed.” Later that day, they found a bed at Bombay Hospital but his grandfather died hours later. His test results showed he was infected with the virus.
Parikh said he believes the delays contributed to his grandfather’s death. Officials at Lilavati and Bombay Hospital declined to speak with Reuters. Representatives of Breach Candy hospital did not respond to requests for comment.
For years, India’s booming private hospitals have taken some of the strain off the country’s underfunded and dilapidated public health network, but the ordeal of Parikh’s family suggests that as coronavirus cases explode in India, even private facilities are at risk of being overrun.
India on Sunday reported 6,767 new coronavirus infections, the country’s biggest one-day increase. Government data shows the number of coronavirus cases in the world’s second-most populous country are doubling every 13 days or so, even as the government begins easing lockdown restrictions. India has reported more than 131,000 infections, including 3,867 deaths.
“The increasing trend has not gone down,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan, referring to India’s cases. “We’ve not seen a flattening of the curve.”
Mukherjee’s team estimates that between 630,000 and 2.1 million people in India - out of a population of 1.3 billion - will become infected by early July.
More than a fifth of the country’s coronavirus cases are in Mumbai, India’s financial hub and its most populous city, where the Parikhs struggled to find hospital beds for their infected family members.
India’s health ministry did not respond to a request for comment on how it will cope with the predicted rise in infections, given that most public hospitals are overcrowded at the best of times. The government has said in media briefings that not all patients need hospitalization and it is making rapid efforts to increase the number of hospital beds and procure health gear.
The government’s data from last year showed there were about 714,000 hospital beds in India, up from about 540,000 in 2009. However, given India’s rising population, the number of beds per 1,000 people has grown only slightly in that time.
India has 0.5 beds per 1,000 people, according to the latest data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), up from 0.4 beds in 2009, but among lowest of countries surveyed by the OECD. In contrast, China has 4.3 hospital beds per 1,000 people and the United States has 2.8, according to the latest OECD figures.
While millions of India’s poor rely on the public health system, especially in rural areas, private facilities account for 55% of hospital admissions, according to government data. The private health sector has been growing over the past two decades, especially in India’s big cities, where an expanding class of affluent Indians can afford private care.
Mumbai’s municipal authority said it had ordered public officials to take control of at least 100 private hospital beds in all 24 zones in the city of almost 20 million people to make more beds available for coronavirus patients.
Still, there is a waiting list. An official at a helpline run by Mumbai’s civic authorities told Reuters that patients would be notified about availability.