NEW DELHI — When Rehmat Ahsan began to have trouble breathing last week, his family went from hospital to hospital in India’s capital looking for a bed in a covid-19 ward. Everywhere they tried was full.
Then they started a new search — for the oxygen that might save his life.
Ahsan’s older brother said he found an oxygen cylinder from a private vendor for $350, five times the normal price. It lasted eight hours. When he tried to refill the cylinder, he found hundreds of people waiting in line.
By the time he found more oxygen several hours later, Ahsan was struggling for every breath. Later that afternoon, he died at home.
“He was a strong man, a fighter who was defeated by an incompetent system,” said Mohammed Rizwan Alam, his elder brother. He believes his brother, a 49-year-old shopkeeper, and father of two daughters, would still be alive had he received proper care.
In India’s devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, patients and their families are on their own, fighting to save their loved ones in an overwhelmed system where ambulances, hospital beds, oxygen, medicine, and even cremation grounds are in short supply.
India’s healthcare infrastructure is buckling as a record-breaking surge of infections exposes what experts say are decades of underinvestment combined with a lack of preparation by the government for a second wave. The country is reporting more than 300,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths a day, although official figures understate the scale of the calamity.