On April 25, within 10 hours, a teacher from Kharpora village of Anantnag in southern Kashmir lost his stillborn twins and his 35 year old wife at Maternity and Childcare Hospital in Anantnag. He refers to three deaths as ‘murders due to administrative and medical negligence.’
His wife was declared positive for coronavirus posthumously and was registered as case number 524 in J&K and seventh COVID-19 patient who died since March 9, when first corona virus positive case was reported from the Union Territory.
Her native area Kharpora, a far flung village, around 40 kms from the hospital in Anantnag, nestled in the mountains, was declared Red Zone on April 24, when first corona virus positive case was reported from there. This village has now become a hotspot as over 28 cases have been reported from here since April 25 including the family members of deceased.
Official figures reveal that J&K has reported 726 COVID-19 cases till May 4, out of which, 664 cases were reported from Kashmir, while as 62 cases were reported from Jammu division. Eight COVID-19 patients have died in the UT.
Anantnag district of southern Kashmir reported its first case of COVID-19 on April 9, a month after the first case was reported in J&K. Total number of cases in the district reached to 109 and it shares second spot with the Srinagar which recorded the same number of cases till May 4. Bandipora district in northern Kashmir has reported the highest, 130 cases of COVID19 across J&K.
Back in Kharpora, the family may have buried three bodies in their ancestral graveyard, but were unable to bury the horrific experience at the government hospital in Anantnag where they were taunted, abused and neglected.
“This was our fate, but who will be held accountable for gross medical and administrative negligence, that ended with three murders,” asks the teacher, who now has to take care of his two girls—5 and 8 years old. “I couldn’t even say good bye to her. I miss the reality of her final moments, as I was burying my children, when she left me alone,” he said.
The two girls had made elaborate plans to welcome their twin siblings and often talked about celebrations on Eid. Their mother was equally excited about the two babies, who were healthy and fine in the womb as per the last ultrasound and checkup conducted by a doctor at a private hospital. “She loved me every single day and made me feel important,” he said.
Ten Hours of Tormenting Journey:
At 6:00am on April 25, other than the usual anxieties due to corona virus pandemic and ongoing lockdown, the family lived a routine life. The expectant mother had woken up for suhooras it was the first day of the holy month of Ramazan. But, her brother insisted not to. She was pregnant with twins and needed lot of fluids, reasoned her brother. She obliged and joined the family just for morning prayers.
At 6:10am, she complained of pain. The family immediately drove her to residence of private doctor who she was consulting since November 2019. This doctor had kept his phone switched off and nobody was answering the repeated knocks at his home. Finally, a desperate nephew climbed the wall to get inside.
“He refused to treat her. He said that no private hospital would admit her as she is from Red Zone. You take her to MCCH in Anantnag,” a family member told ET. They offered him money equivalent to what private hospitals charge for such cases, requesting him to operate her at government hospital in Dooru, where he himself was posted. But, he didn’t agree and didn’t write any recommendation or referral either. He expressed helplessness and went inside.
By now pain had aggravated and the woman started crying hoarsely in their family car. With no other option nearby, they decided to drive towards MCCH in Anantnag, around 40kms away. They reached hospital at around 7:30am and immediately informed doctors, paramedic and other administrative staff about the case. They also mentioned that they have come from an area, which was declared Red Zone a day before.
“This was like a red rag to the bull. The staffers started laughing at us. We were mocked and asked to stay away,” he reminisces. “Why are you touching the curtain,” a hospital staffer shouted. “Why the hell did you even come here,” another continued.
Finally, a female doctor agreed to check the pregnant woman, but started asking administrative questions. She told them that the woman wasn’t registered at MCCH and thus doesn’t posses the prescription and documents required for the treatment of such cases as per the protocol.
“She advised us to go back to hospital sub-district hospital in Kokernag. We pleaded to start the treatment immediately or refer her to LD hospital in Srinagar. But they kept delaying. Finally, after an hour at around 8:45am she was shifted to labor room,” he said. At around 9:30am, she delivered first stillborn baby. It was a normal delivery but she was in extreme pain and suffering due to complications of labor.
“I had suggested them to perform a cesarean section due to our past experience,” said the husband. She had extreme complications during normal deliveries of their first two girls. Both the girls were stuck in the tube and it took around six hours each time, for the delivery. “Nobody listened or even informed the family why it wasn’t done,” he lamented.
She was lying in the labor room, crying in pain. No doctor was telling the family anything. Paramedical staff was elusive and peons were shouting at them.
At around 12:30pm she delivered another stillborn baby in extreme pain. She was now shifted to ward number six, which was an isolation ward.
“She was lying there like an unwanted animal hit with a random car in a jungle,” he says. Some of the family members stayed in the hospital, while as the teacher, took his two dead children in lap and drove back to his native village Kharpora along with another relative in their private car. Here they started the burial process of the stillborn babies.
While they were filling the graves, he got a call that his wife passed away in the hospital as well. Between 12:30pm and 3:30pm, when she passed away, attendant allege that nobody had visited her to do a follow up check in the isolation ward. Family members allege that she had acute blood loss as well. She had developed extreme complications around 3pm. The attendants were running helter-skelter looking for doctors and paramedics. Every staffer in the hospital was invisible for the family.
“My wife banged the door of adjacent ward number 5. But the staffer their refused to come out and locked the door. He said that ward six was not their jurisdiction,” says brother of the deceased. The administrative staff didn’t allow the family members to meet the doctors present in the hospital. And doctors they allege weren’t themselves interested to follow the case.
“They were forcing us to run from labor room to operation theatre and keep looking for doctors. Nobody came forward. When a doctor finally came to see her and prescribed a medicine, she had already passed away,” said her brother.
After she was dead doctors took her swab to test for corona virus and the body was handed over to relatives, who took it back to Kharpora in an ambulance. They weren’t asked to follow any precautions, despite her being COVID-19 suspect. The family reached home, buried the body and the funeral was attended by scores of people. The guidelines for such cases were flouted.
“Why did they give us the body if she was corona virus suspect. Why didn’t they ask us to follow any protocol? Weren’t the two babies also suspects for corona virus? All of us took them in our laps,” brother of the deceased said.
The district administration has now sealed the Kharpora village and the family members are under home quarantine and so are other families in the village. Some family members have tested positive for corona virus. Nine healthcare workers isolated themselves following this case and other staffers protested against lack of facilities at MCCH hospital. They alleged that administration is not providing them basic facilities to deal with the cases. The hospital faces space crunch as well and pregnant women often share a bed in the hospital even in times of the pandemic.
“If they were not equipped to deal with the case, why didn’t they simply accept it and asked us to buy PPEs and other equipment for them. We would have spent the money to save lives,” said the brother. Or simply, family says that MCCH should have referred them to better hospital in Srinagar, which was around 50 kms away and they would have reached there in an hour.
On April 22, Indian Council of Medical Research had issued guidelines that all pregnant women from Red Zones, would be treated as suspect for COVID-19 and tested before the due date of delivery. Following this, J&K government also issued order that the pregnant women would be treated at specific hospital within districts.
Regarding this case, medical superintendent of MCCH Dr Mir Ji Andrabi told ET that they have submitted the enquiry report before principal of Government Medical College of Anantnag. The GMC principal Dr Shaukat Jeelani said that they received the preliminary report but have ordered another ‘broad based’ inquiry.
“We want to get more clarity on the case. Law will take its own course and inquiry would be impartial. Doodh Ka Doodh Aur Paani Ka Paani Alag Hona Chahiye,” said Dr Jeelani.
District Commissioner of Anantnag Bashir Ahmad Dar, didn’t respond to several calls and message. His operator informed that he will get back, but never responded for several days. However, Additional district magistrate of Anantnag Syed Yasir wrote on the twitter about this case.
“The unfortunate death of a pregnant woman at MCH Anantnag can’t be attributed to COVID, though samples taken post her death have reported positive. The alleged negligence on part of maternity hospital is being enquired into,” Yasir tweeted.
Misadministration in Anantnag:
While the administration was still investigating the Kharpora case, another 30- year-old pregnant woman, Shakeela Akhter, from Salia village, was declared as brought dead at MCCH hospital, on May 3. She was shifted from a hospital in Seer village to MCCH in Anantnag, as she had developed labor obstruction.
Her family was allegedly denied ambulance at MCCH Anantnag to take her body back home. Her relatives were seen dragging her body for over 1 km in Anantnag town on a hospital stretcher. The video of this horrific scene went viral on social media. A doctor and a paramedic were suspended. The administration ordered another inquiry.
Again, District Magistrate Dar, didn’t receive calls, but wrote on twitter about this case, “…dead body was taken away by relatives fearing they will have to wait for burial if sample is taken for COVID test.” The coordination between hospital administration, district administration and police was missing, which again put lives of people at risk.
Earlier, on April 28, inmates of a quarantine facility in Anantnag protested alleging lack of facilities at the center. Police force was used to quell the protests. Additional DM of Anantnag Yasir took to twitter over the incident justifying the use of force for the larger good.
“Mild Lathicharge today was warranted in larger public good as few unruly inmates were attempting to escape the quarantine center. It’s being wrongly projected that there is lack of facilities,” he wrote, exhibiting an illusion of confidence.
Court takes Cognizance:
District court in Anantnag has now taken suo moto cognizance of alleged mishandling and mismanaging medical emergencies in the district, which includes death of two pregnant women and directed Senior Superintendent of Police of Anantnag to hold enquiry in to the matter and submit a report within 15 days.
The Principal District & Session Judge Anantnag Parvez Hussain Kachroo, said that
If the enquiry finds that there is a case of medical negligence and the women haves died due to medical negligence then those responsible for medical negligence must be brought to book and the action as warranted under law may be initiated against any delinquent official.
Spreading the Virus:
It all started in Anantnag on March 30, when a resident of Chak-Wangund was allowed to go home after spending six days in administrative quarantine. He was an active contact of a positive case from Srinagar.
Being asymptomatic, the administration, allowed him to go home taking in account his period of isolation at home after he came in contact with positive contact. On April 9, this person tested positive for corona virus. Between, March 30 and April 9, when he was advised to stay home, he didn’t follow any guidelines. There was no administrative surveillance on this high-risk contact. He roamed around in the area freely and attended several social gatherings, putting hundreds of lives at risk. He had also visited his in-laws at Sarnal Bala, who happen to be bakers. He had contact with their employee, who was also tested positive. This was mishandled as well.
“He didn’t self report the travel history…our teams picked him up on March 26 and he completed necessary 14 day quarantine on March 30, which started from the day he came in contact with the positive case in Srinagar,” Yasir wrote on twitter.
The family at Sarnal Bala officials say was put under quarantine after collecting their samples, but their employee was allowed to go home. In absence of any surveillance, locals say, he also mingled with the neighbors and attended social gathering. The administration is inquiring this case as well.
Another person from Khudpora of Khiram in Srigufwara who had a contact with a positive person and was therefore a ‘high risk contact’ locals say, was at home after his samples were taken, in complete violation of the ICMR guidelines. Again, without any official surveillance he engaged in social activities, got his hair trimmed, sold beef, worked in his orchards and finally he was declared as positive as well. His area has now been declared as Red Zone. The officials in the district didn’t respond to calls and few among them revealed these details on the condition of anonymity.