India now in damage control, says Mullingar-based doctor

A Mullingar based Indian national has spoken of his sadness at watching his home country struggle to cope with record numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.

In a little over six weeks, India has gone from apparently having Covid-19 under control to, at the time of writing, almost 400,000 new cases and 4,000 deaths a day, while supplies of oxygen and drugs, such as remdesivir, are running out in many parts of country.

Dr Praful Ghyar is a consultant physician in the Midlands Regional Hospital Mullingar. His home city of Mumbai has been one of areas worst affected by India’s second wave of the virus hit a little over a month ago.

“It has a huge population [more than 20 million] but it is a small place. There are lots of people living in densely populated areas.”

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner last week, Dr Ghyar said that the second wave has affected people in all strata of Indian society.

“During the first wave, none of my family members, or anyone I knew, were affected really. But during the second wave, a member of almost every family would have been affected.

“Many people are not going to testing centres. They are self-isolating at home.

“My mother had Covid four weeks ago. She tested positive, but she didn’t need any hospital treatment.

“She self-isolated at home and she is fine now. My sister’s mother-in-law was similar to my mother and my wife’s father had it. In every family, someone caught it.”

Dr Ghyar is also receiving first hand accounts of what things are really like on the frontline from his sister and his wife’s siblings, who are all doctors.

In addition to trying to treat unprecedented numbers of people who are seriously ill with the virus, the “stretched” health system in Mumbai and the rest of India is also having to contend with another phenomenon, which is making an exceptionally challenging situation even worse, he says.

“I think there is something called Covid hysteria going on because of the fear and it being so much in the news.

“People with minor symptoms want to be hospitalised. They don’t want to stay at home because they are worried that if they stay at home and become unwell, they won’t get back.

“I think many of the beds are occupied by people who could have recovered at home.

“Whereas here you might have two or three people in a four- or five-bedroom house, over there self isolating at home is a very difficult option for many people.”

Despite being home to more than 1.3 billion people, many of whom live in densely populated cities such as Mumbai, India looked as if it had managed to successfully contain the coronavirus, at the start of March.

Dr Ghyar believes that surge of cases in the last month in particular is down to a number factors, including complacency.

Elections were held in many states and a number of large religious festival took place, with little or no social distancing or mask wearing.

“There is no unemployment payment like we have in Ireland. People have to earn their livelihood. They have to go out and work.

“Essentially, I believe that social distancing guidelines wouldn’t have been followed as they were in the first wave when the numbers came down, both from a government point of view and from the people’s point of view.”

Currently two vaccines are being produced by Indian drugs manufacturers. However, given the scale of the crisis and the logistics involved in ramping up production and the vaccination rollout in a country of almost 1.4bn people, Dr Ghyar says that it will be some time before the India’s vaccination programme has a positive impact on case numbers and deaths.

With experts predicting that the number of confirmed cases will rise to 500,000 a day or even more in the coming weeks, Dr Ghyar says that in the short term India has to focus on “damage control”.

Although currently living almost 8,000 miles away, he is looking for ways that he can help his stricken countrymen in their time of need.

On social media, he has been offering advice to family and friends on how to treat people with the virus at home using drugs and techniques that have proved successful in Ireland.

He has also been in touch with the Indian embassy to see how he can help with any fundraising campaigns or other initiatives they are running. While it has been “very difficult” to watch the tragic events unfold in his homeland in recent weeks, he says that he has been deeply heartened by the news that the Irish Government had donated medical aid, including oxygen to India.

“I am extremely grateful for the support and the compassion the Irish people have shown during these difficult times,” he said.