At least 10 people died after Indian hospital ran out of oxygen: 'Everyone was helpless'

A COVID-19 patient receives oxygen in Ghaziabad, India.
(Image credit: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)

At least 10 people died overnight at the Chamarajanagar District Hospital in Karnataka, India, after the facility ran out of oxygen.

Officials said 14 more patients died before oxygen arrived on Monday morning, but it's unclear if the oxygen deprivation is what led to their deaths. Rani, a 28-year-old nurse, told The New York Times her 29-year-old husband, Sureendra, was one of the COVID-19 patients who died. Sureendra was in the intensive care unit, and Rani said when she spoke to him at dinnertime, he sounded okay. At about 11:30 p.m., he called and was gasping for breath, she said, and begged her to come see him before he died. "Everyone was helpless," Rani told the Times, adding, "What will I do without my husband now?"

The oxygen shortage is hitting hospitals across India, which is struggling to deal with a sharp increase in coronavirus cases and deaths — on Monday, the federal Health Ministry reported 368,147 new COVID-19 cases and 3,417 deaths. Most of India's oxygen production facilities are in the eastern part of the country, while the worst COVID-19 outbreaks are in New Delhi and the western state of Maharashtra, and it can take several days to drive the supplies to where they are needed.

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The government has said there is enough liquid oxygen to help all patients, it's just a matter of getting it to the hospitals — a stance doctors and experts disagree with. Prof. Ritu Priya from the Center of Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal University in New Delhi told the Times the lack of oxygen is "a failure of governance. We were not able to channelize oxygen distribution over the past year, when that is what we should have been doing. We are living from oxygen cylinder to oxygen cylinder."

At Jaipur Golden Hospital in New Delhi, oxygen supplies were coming in every day at the same time, administrator Dr. Deep Kumar Baluja told the Times, but on April 24, they didn't arrive as scheduled, and there was no oxygen left. Because of this, 20 COVID-19 patients died "one after another," he said. "I have no words to express what I felt when patients died."

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