May 5, 2021
By February this year, a month since India had kickstarted its COVID-19 vaccination drive, over 60% of the country’s healthcare workers had received their first vaccine doses. Dr. Kumar*, 68, was one of them. As a cardiologist with 45 years of experience, the Agra-based doctor was part of the cohort of 30 million healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase of India’s vaccine rollout.
But tragedy struck within a month: Kumar — who had received Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that the Serum Institute of India locally manufactures — started showing severe reactions. He was eventually diagnosed with liver ascites, a disease that develops over a decade, caused by liver cirrhosis. In March, Kumar’s ascites was in the last stage — he lost 12 kilograms and his right arm developed a tremble. Kumar was about to fly to Delhi’s Max Hospital for a life-saving liver transplant surgery when the deadly second wave of coronavirus hit, prompting most Indian states to impose a lockdown and prioritize COVID cases. The family had no choice but to stay put.
In India, where COVID infections have surged past 20 million, non-COVID patients are struggling to receive treatment. Hospitals have been shutting down out-patient facilities and non-emergency services. With the country’s overburdened healthcare system stretched thin by a deluge of COVID cases, non-COVID patients like Kumar assume lowest priority and are being turned away, even if they are in critical condition.