Gasping for Breath: Ventilator Shortage is Killing Kids in Delhi

Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas

“He was opening his eyes and responding for six days before going silent completely”, recalls Ashfaq who lost his two-year-old son Farhan in February 2019.

But it was not the ailment alone that took Farhan’s life. According to Ashfaq, his son would have recovered if only the hospital had given ventilator support to Farhan on time.

At one of the biggest hospitals under the Delhi government, LNJP (Lok Nayak Jai Prakash) Hospital, shortage of ventilators allegedly proved fatal.

Went to Court for a Ventilator

Ashfaq’s wife doesn’t want to talk about Farhan’s demise at all. “Can you bring back my son?”, she asked in a fit of fury with tears rolling down her eyes.

Inside a three-storey house in north Delhi’s Khajuri Khas locality, every member of Ashfaq’s family has a tale to share about their ‘dulara’ (beloved) Farhan.

After the hospital authorities informed Ashfaq that they don’t have a vacancy in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and therefore won’t be able to provide ventilator, the family took turns to help Farhan breathe with the help of an ambu bag.

"“We were told that since the child is finding it difficult to breathe, you’ll have to manage with an ambu bag. We were told to keep pressing the ambu bag all the time.”" - Ashfaq Ali Ansari (Filed case regarding shortage of ventilators)

Ashfaq showing medical documents of Farhan who passed away in February 2019 allegedly due to delay in providing a ventilator.

Also Read: Absence of Ventilator in Hospital Makes Swine Flu Patient Critical

Ashfaq abided by the instructions of hospital staff and hoped that the ambu bag, a handheld resuscitation device, will improve Farhan’s condition.

Three days went by as Farhan continued to breathe with the help of a rubber pump attached to a tube, the other end going into Farhan’s mouth. Basically, it was just the suction aiding the toddler in breathing.

Exasperated with lack of ventilators, Ashfaq decided to knock the doors of court so that Farhan can get an automated ventilator as soon as possible.

Ashfaq’s petition at the Delhi High Court opened a can of worms as the reply submitted by the Delhi government revealed the gross mismatch between demand and supply.

Also Read: Low-Cost Health Tech: Your Phone Can Now Function As a Ventilator

Only 3.4 percent of ICU and non-ICU beds at 33 hospitals under the Delhi government have ventilators, according to the reply submitted before the court on 13 February 2019.

Doctors recommend that ideally the number of ventilators should be at least 10 percent of the beds. The court has asked for information about hospitals being run by the Central government.

"“This case exposes the reality of government hospitals. 400 ventilators for 10,000 beds are inadequate. The government has an obligation under law to protect an individual’s life.”" - Ashok Agarwal, Lawyer for Ashfaq

Also Read: Low-Cost Health Tech: Your Phone Can Now Function As a Ventilator

Three Govt Hospitals Denied Ventilator to a Newborn Baby

Ashfaq is not the only one who suffered such a tragic fate. Another family, just few lanes away from Ashfaq’s house, in Khajuri Khas, lost a one-day-old baby in 2017 after three government hospitals denied a ventilator.

Khadeeja could not even see the face of her one-day-old daughter, who was named Shahida by the family.

In September 2017, doctors at the Jag Pravesh Chandra Hospital told Khadeeja’s family to take the newborn baby to another hospital where ventilator is available. Khadeeja’s father-in-law Rizwan Mansoori approached three government hospitals, only to be denied.

Rizwan Mansoori with his eldest gradndaughter Alina at his house in north Delhi’s Khajuri Khas.

"“After lot of effort, we were able to speak to the doctor but his behaviour was not appropriate. He told us that neither was there space (in ICU) nor time. So, I told him, “Tell us what we should do.””" - Rizwan Mansoori (lost his one-day-old granddaughter in 2017)

They were forced to use an ambu bag at 10 pm and continued pressing the bag till 4 in the morning. Khadeeja lost her daughter the next day.

Ashfaq and Rizwan’s cases highlight the need to fix government hospitals in the capital. With India spending only 1.02 percent of its GDP on public healthcare, the first step can perhaps be increase in budget allocation.

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