Covid-19, health as a human right, and a pro-active NHRC

Panel has risen to the task of ensuring public healthcare is in order, patients get treatment

GN Bureau | June 12, 2020


#healthcare   #human rights   #lockdown   #coronavirus   #Covid-19   #health ministry   #NHRC  
GN Photo
GN Photo

 Even as public health authorities have been struggling hard to meet the unprecedented crisis, the Covid-19 has also exposed glaring weaknesses in the system, and it is the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that has risen to the task of speaking up on behalf of the hassled citizens.

 
On Friday, a team of NHRC led by its member, Jyotika Kalra, visited the LNJP hospital in Delhi for an on-the-spot assessment of the facilities for Covid care in view of the allegations that despite beds the patients were being denied admission and treatment. It interacted with the hospital administration, doctors, staff and some attendants of the patients there. The team visited the emergency and the Ward having beds for the Covid patients.
 
The team was informed that no serious patient was denied admission and as such only those patients are being admitted whose condition is serious; others having minor symptoms are being advised for home quarantine. The hospital administration claimed that they are being referred patients by various doctors without any proper protocol, the NHRC said in a release.
 
On the delay in shifting dead bodies, the hospital administration said that only due to problems in lifts on some occasions, there might have been some delay but mostly the bodies are shifted immediately. The patients are being allowed to carry mobile phones and there is no such restriction. Home food is also being allowed. Additionally, the hospital canteen has been providing breakfast, lunch and dinner as per schedule.
 
The team found several beds were lying vacant. However, the hospital administration said this is as part of requirement in coming days, even additional equipment like dialysis machines and ventilators have also been kept ready for any exigencies. About 23% doctors and paramedical staff has been kept ready aside for deployment on need basis.
 
Kalra observed that at hospital entry gate proper and visible notice boards giving directions to the patients and their attendants were required. These should properly display the telephone number of an official who can directly guide them instead of a number which only gives another number to contact.
 
She said the visit was aimed at helping the hospital administration to plug loopholes in their functioning and not just find faults. A detailed report will be prepared and submitted to the Commission shortly. However, she said that the Commission would continue to keep a check on the facilities of the LNJP hospital and may also visit some hospitals in the National Capital (NCR) under the health ministry.
 
The LNJP visit came a day after the commission issued notices to the Delhi government and the health & family welfare ministry on a complaint making serious allegations about the difficulties being faced by the general public in the capital, due to non-availability of beds in the hospitals for the Covid-19 patients and inadequate number of tests leading to a grim state of affairs and mismanagement, resulting in death of a large number of people. Allegedly, there has been massive delay in conducting the last rites of those died during the pandemic period; tests on the bodies of the symptomatic deceased are also not being conducted violating the WHO and ICMR norms which can be extremely dangerous.
 
The commission observed that the complainant, Ajay Maken, former president of the Delhi Congress, has not come up with mere allegations, rather he has made apparent sincere efforts to provide data in support of his complaint, which if true, raise serious issue of inappropriate approach of the government agencies towards the plight of the general public amounting to a serious issue of violation of human rights. The data indicates that there is urgent need for taking effective steps immediately by the government agencies.
 
Issuing the notices, the commission added that it would appreciate if both the Delhi government and the ministry consider the matter in consultation with each other to ensure a comprehensive report within ten days. In the meantime, the state government is expected to increase the number of beds and tests per day, for the Covid patients.
 
The Commission has further observed that there have been many complaints coming to its notice from across the country relating to the difficulties being faced by the general public in getting timely medical treatment for Covid-19 and the national capital has been no exception. Suo motu cognizance was also taken of such matters including one relating to death of a 32 year old Delhi Police constable, who lost to the deadly virus because he was not admitted in the hospital in time.
 
The commission added that it also understands this is an unprecedented situation for the government agencies, hospitals, doctors as well as patients and their families but the state cannot leave its citizens to die without making the best possible efforts. It is not incorrect to state that the number of Covid patients, in the country is increasing day by day and the recovery rate is above 48% but it is also true that a large number of people have died and the National capital is one of the worst affected cities so far.
 
According to the complaint, received by the commission on June 9, the Covid positive and its suspected patients are running from one hospital to another for admission, but the hospitals are turning them back. The chart provided by the complainant indicates that the NCT of Delhi has a robust hospital infrastructure of 57,194 beds. It has a significant presence of Central government Hospitals also but it is painful to see that only 12% of the Delhi Government, 8% of the Central Government institutions and 7% of the Private Hospital beds are presently occupied and are being used to treat Covid patients.
 
A pro-active rights commission
* These notices came two days after it issued to the Uttar Pradesh government over medical apathy towards two expecting women in Gautam Buddha Nagar and NOIDA, and asked the union health ministry to issue instructions to states and UTs not to deny treatment to those needing critical care other than Covid-19.
 
* Earlier this month, the commission decided to (and the supreme court allowed it to) intervene though its writ petition on the problems and miseries of migrant labourers in the wake of the nationwide lockdown.
 
* On May 28, NHRC issued noticed to the chief secretaries of Gujarat and Bihar, the Railway Board chairman and the union home secretary on media reports of hardships to labourers on board misdirected special trains, devoid of water, food and basic facilities causing sickness and death.
 
* A day earlier, it had issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh Government over reported death of a migrant worker due to hunger in Saharanpur while walking six days from Ludhiana to back home in Hardoi.
 
* In mid-may, the panel also took note of a photograph in newspapers of a migrant mother pulling a suitcase with her child sleeping half hung on it on the Agra highway, and issued notices to the chief secretaries of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh and the district magistrate, Agra. [Read more here: http://www.governancenow.com/news/regular-story/migrant-mother-pulling-a-suitcase-with-child-asleep-on-it-nhrc-takes-note]
 
* When there were reports of improper police action on the complaint of a Manipuri girl who was subjected to racial abuse and beating by some locals in the Gurugram in mid-May, the commission sent notice to the chief secretary, Haryana, and the city police commissioner.
 
* In early May, as media reported about labourers going home from cities facing severe hardships, the NHRC intervened with notices to various authorities at the state and central levels. 
 

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