by Meera Satpathy
You pride yourself on being an NGO that is dedicated to adolescent health, maternal and child care and to working with the government and partners to make last mile connectivity with health service delivery for populations that are marginalised and living on the periphery. And yet, when you hear of stories like Soniya, all of 20 years of age, brimming with plans and dreams, dying at the hands of a callous and unfeeling health system, you wonder if as an organisation dedicated to uplifting the poor for over decades, you have really achieved anything at all? Isn’t every human life precious and is not what you signed up for along with your dedicated team?
What was Soniya’s fault? A seven-month pregnant first-time mother, she and her husband had migrated from Bihar few years ago and taken up a shanty in Nathupur slum after paying a hefty amount to the local broker. They worked double shifts to survive in the city and to send back some money to their old parents back home. When Soniya got pregnant they were very happy and began frantic preparations. Knitting for the little one who was scheduled to be born in Delhi’s peak winter, starting a small post office saving in the child’s name and most importantly, with Sukarya’s help, Soniya registered herself at the nearby government hospital for her delivery. She was regular with her antenatal check ups and on doctor’s advice was monitoring her blood pressure which was a bit erratic.
While Nathupur slum was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic with every other household having patients in the lethal second wave, Soniya was nervous. She would call up Sukarya volunteers and keep enquiring about the outside situation and chances of lives becoming normal so that she and her unborn baby could be safe. Despite taking all precautions she had severe bleeding on the night on 19th May. Due to the lockdown arranging help, or getting a doctor to visit was a herculean task. No neighbour stepped forward given the pandemic. Finally, her husband who was running helter skelter on his bicycle managed to bring the community health worker and ASHA to the house. Together in a cab they took Soniya to the Civil Hospital, Gurugram but the doctor refused to attend her citing the reason of COVID workload. She was referred to Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi which is COVID-19 care hospital. While still on the way, she had massive convulsions and died in the back seat of the cab.
She could have lived and so many like her too. Where are we as a country going wrong? Why is our health system ill-equipped to deal with these issues. Surely, COVID-19 is not going to be the last of the pandemics that humanity is going to see. Do we have any plan for the future. The sheer helplessness of Sukarya was evident when the entire team visited her home to condole the family and offer support, but is that enough?