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KEM protest shows Mumbai’s overburdened health system

The protest by staff of the civic-run King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital here over the death of a health worker reflects how Mumbai’s health system is over-stretched, and the challenges being faced by the country’s financial capital in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

In view of the rising number of deaths of COVID-19 patients, slots in the KEM Hospital’s mortuary are full and bodies of several victims keep lying in the corridor of the medical facility, a union leader of the hospital staff said.

He also said that the health workers were not being provided adequate protective equipment and financial support.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) plan earlier to push private doctors to share the burden got lukewarm response, and the civic body then started taking over private medical facilities to admit COVID-19 patients there for treatment.

On Tuesday, the death of a health worker at the KEM Hospital triggered a protest by its employees, who alleged apathy by the BMC towards their working conditions during the coronavirus crisis.

While the hospitals management agreed to provide more facilities to its staff, doctors and other workers there expressed concerns over how they were engaged in a “battle of life and death” every day while taking care of the patients.

The KEM Hospital, located at Parel in Muumbai, has been converted into a dedicated COVID-19 treatment facility, witnessing a daily influx of people for treatment.

The city, where headquarters of many big companies including MNCs, are based, has also provided job opportunities to lakhs of labourers in the service sector.

Many from this labour force, which has been largely exposed to coronavirus infection, have been coming to the hospital in the hope of getting treatment, but end up waiting there for long hours to even get a bed for admission.

The rising number of fatalities has also posed a challenge before the administration, because handling and movement of bodies is a huge and time-consuming task.

“Only 27 bodies can be kept in the KEM mortuary. But, all slots are filled with COVID-19 victims’ bodies and other bodies have been kept in the corridor. There are some 15 bodies kept on stretchers on both sides of the corridor that leads to the second floor where testing laboratory is located, KEM staffers’ union leader Santosh Dhuri said.

“Workers need protection kits and assurance of financial support in case of falling sick. These issues are not satisfactorily addressed by the BMC and the state government despite several reminders and agitations, he said.

State Health Minister Rajesh Tope recently said it is not just about the requirement of ICUs to treat COVID-19 patients.

“We basically need more beds, each with oxygen supply facility. We need to have at least 10,000 beds with oxygen supply facility to treat more and more people. We want this city to re-start its functioning, but before that we want to locate and detect every coronavirus patient,” he said.

Till Tuesday, Mumbai reported 32,791 COVID-19 cases and 1,065 deaths due to the disease.

“It is a clear indication of the growing spread of coronavirus cases in Mumbai. Unless the number of COVID-19 starts coming down, there is no indication that we have been able to contain the disease, an official said.

The Maharashtra government recently said it has already set up a COVID-19 treatment centre at an open space in the Bandra-Kurla Complex here, and an isolation facility at the NSCI stadium in Worli area for patients.

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