Bhopal Survivor Groups Charge BMHRC Hospital with Negligence Over Covid-19 Deaths

Survivor groups on a previous protest outside BMHRC

On September 17th, five survivor groups in Bhopal drafted a letter to the Chairman of the Monitoring Committee for Medical Rehabilitation of Bhopal Gas Victims citing criminal negligence on the part of the management of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre, after 6 gas survivors had died in the hospital’s isolation ward over the prior 15 days. All 6 patients had been admitted to the hospital’s 10-bed isolation ward with Covid-19 symptoms, with 5 of them testing positive. The letter states that although there are typically 3-4 Covid-19 patients on ventilators in the ward requiring 24-hour care, there is often no doctor or technician on duty. Of the 6 patients that died, 4 passed away due to acute respiratory distress while on a ventilator, one suffered kidney failure after failing to receive dialysis, and one suffered sudden cardiac arrest with no doctor on hand to resuscitate them.

The letter states that BMHRC hospital, a government hospital dedicated to the treatment of gas victims, had planned to open a 50-bed ward for Covid-19 patients, but 7 months on no work has taken place at the hospital to expand their facilities. This is despite the hospital closing a majority of their services and discharging existing patients back in March in order to convert the facility into a dedicated coronavirus treatment centre. In a joint appeal to the Monitoring Committee, the survivor organisations called for the following actions to be taken by the Committee and BMHRC to prevent the needless deaths of more gas survivors from Covid-19 and other pre-existing conditions:

  • BMHRC should, at the earliest possible time, open a 40 bed (20 HDU beds & 20 ICU beds) Covid-19 centre for gas victims.
  • BMHRC isolation wards should have the staff, equipment & expertise required to ensure around the clock care for patients admitted with Covid-19 symptoms.
  • BMHRC needs to stop refusing gas victims admission to other wards of the hospital.
  • The Monitoring Committee should also oversee the building of a 50-bed Covid-19 care centre for gas victims in the Pulmonary Medicine Centre, ensuring it is fully staffed and equipped for treatment.
  • The Monitoring Committee must ensure that the gas relief department will pay the medical bill of gas victims if no ICU or Oxygen beds are available in the government Covid-19 hospitals and gas victims are forced to visit private hospital for their medical care.

Press Statement

On September 18th, the five survivor groups issued the following joint press statement:

The organisations working with the survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster have charged Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre (BMHRC) with criminal negligence & mismanagement as 6 gas victims suffering from Covid-19 have died in the hospital’s isolation ward in the last 15 days. In a letter addressed to the Supreme Court appointed Monitoring Committee the survivor groups have shared details of 6 gas victims who died in the isolation ward as there was no full-time doctor posted to administer and no treatment for Covid-19 was being administered to these patients. BMHRC is a super-speciality hospital built to cater to the medical needs of Bhopal gas victims and is currently being run by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

While gas victims (Covid positive & suspect) are left to die in the isolation ward of the BMHRC, what is even more diabolical is that gas victims in need of ICU facilities, including Pulmonary, Neurology, Gastro-surgery and Neurosurgery are being refused admission to the hospital. Data obtained under RTI clearly shows that almost all of these departments have reduced admission of gas victims by 2 to 11 times since the arrival of Covid-19. “The BMHRC’s motto; ‘In service of gas victims’ and this hospital is doing every disservice possible by wilfully ignoring the medical needs of the most vulnerable population to Covid-19. ICMR is supposed to be guiding the country in dealing with Covid-19, and in Bhopal they have completely failed to do so”, said Rashida Bee of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karmchari Sangh.

“The city is facing shortage of Oxygen & ICU facilities for Covid patients. Keeping the vulnerability of gas victims in mind, BMHRC should have prepared for this crisis. We are hopeful that the Monitoring Committee will direct BMHRC to start a 40 ICU & HDU (high dependency unit) bed unit to cater to gas victims suffering from Covid-19”, said Rachna Dhingra of The Bhopal Group for Information & Action.

Data from 8 community health units of the ICMR-run Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre (BMHRC) in Bhopal, from 1998 to 2016, shows that 50.4% of gas affected patients suffer from Cardiovascular problems, 59.6% of them suffer from Pulmonary problems and 15.6% of them suffer from Diabetes. As per the records of the Office of the Welfare Commissioner, among Bhopal Gas Victims, 10,550 (1.84% of the gas exposed population) have been granted ex gratia compensation as cancer patients. In March 2020, a letter addressed to the ICMR by the survivor groups clearly stated that, due to multi-systemic damage caused as a result of the exposure to the toxic gases of Union Carbide, it would it would be safe to say that the over half a million Bhopalis exposed to Union Carbide’s gases are at least 5 times more vulnerable to Covid-19 than the general population. “Our letter that categorically stated that unless urgent steps are taken by ICMR too many Bhopalis will suffer from Covid-19 and die from it, fell on deaf ears. We painfully collect information on every Covid-19 death and more than 60% of the city’s Covid deaths are of Bhopal gas victims, when they only constitute 25% of the city’s population”, said Nawab Khan of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha.

The groups will bring up the dire situation of Bhopal gas victims under threat from Covid-19 and BMHRC’s negligence in a Writ Petition pending before the Madhya Pradesh High Court on 7th October, 2020. The State Secretary of Health has been summoned to appear.

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We believe Dow must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.