India: Breathless, Covid-19 patients rescued by a local NGO

Himanshu Verma sighs in relief when an oxygen mask is finally placed on the face of her mother, who is sick with Covid-19 and who was struggling to breathe, sitting at the side of a busy road in the suburbs of New Delhi.

Oxygen shortages in saturated hospitals are pushing breathless patients to seek help from Khalsa Help International, the NGO created by a gurdwara – a Sikh temple – in Ghaziabad.

A tent has been set up in the parking lot of the gurdwara where the sick flock, in tuk-tuk and even in an ambulance.

“We needed treatment but we couldn’t find a place in Delhi hospitals,” Himanshu Verma told AFP as her 58-year-old mother, Poonam, was hooked up to an oxygen concentrator. “We will stay here all night if necessary. We have no other options,” added the 32-year-old.

Around him, other patients, lying on benches or in the back of rickshaws, are trying to find air, in the oppressive heat, climbing to 38 ° C. Their anguished relatives fan them with pieces of cardboard.

“We are welcoming more and more sick people every day,” says Ishant Bindra, 28, a volunteer with Khalsa Help International.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) about one in five people with Covid-19 suffer from respiratory distress and need oxygen therapy.

– Death at the doors of hospitals –

India has recorded a total of 18 million infections, with 360,000 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours. Nearly six million new cases were added in this month of April alone.

In Delhi, the most affected city in the country, 20,000 to 25,000 cases are reported every day. Patients died at the doors of hospitals, awaiting admission. We also die indoors for lack of oxygen.

Priyanka Mandal, 30, said she was unable to get her mother Pushpa, 55, who also had diabetes, admitted to a hospital after her condition deteriorated.

She eventually found someone willing to sell her a bottle and six kilograms of oxygen for 30,000 rupees (332 euros), a price well above the market price.

“She has a constant fever and now she can no longer breathe”, while her oxygen reserves are dwindling, explains the young woman to AFP.

The gurdwara is also struggling to replenish its oxygen supply, due to the serious shortage that is overwhelming Delhi even though international aid is starting to arrive.

Volunteers go to other cities to try to find them, sometimes several hours away.

The site had several full bottles on Monday but on Tuesday, at nightfall, was trying to refill them and, in the meantime, provided oxygen to the sick through a concentrator that extracts it from the ambient air, says to AFP Supreet Singh, a volunteer.

While waiting for the arrival of bottles full of the precious gas, volunteers in protective suits disinfect manometers and pipes.

“No matter how long it takes, I have to wait here,” breaths Priyanka Mandal. “I only have my mother left (…) So I have to help her survive.”

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