In our last coronavirus update we reported that the first seven people to die of Covid-19 in Bhopal were all survivors of the 1984 gas disaster. As of today, the total death toll stands at 15, 13 of them gas survivors. In the wake of the first deaths in the city, the four survivor groups in Bhopal wrote to the state government of Madhya Pradesh – for the second time since the outbreak was first reported – requesting immediate intervention to safeguard survivors. Their suggested action points included identification of the most vulnerable groups in the city by medical staff, immediate testing and treatment of those displaying coronavirus symptoms, the setting up of safe spaces for those unable to self-isolate at home, and the installation of a 50-bed ICU specifically for the treatment of gas survivors at the Pulmonary Medicine Centre in Jehanagirabad.
We are pleased to report that this past weekend representatives of the state government of Madhya Pradesh finally responded to these requests and have been meeting with members of the survivor groups, as well as staff from our own Sambhavna clinic, to identify strategies for the implementation of an agreed action plan to safeguard survivors. This includes agreeing to several of the requests made in the letter, including designating the Pulmonary Medicine Centre in Jehanagirabad as a space specifically for the treatment of gas survivors with Covid-19. Staff from the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre and the National Institute for Research in Environmental Health have been asked to compile a list of gas victims over the age of 60 suffering from comorbidities and survey the worst affected areas to identify and test survivors with symptoms of coronavirus.
While this move by local government to ramp up testing is a big step forward, survivor groups are still concerned that testing should not be limited to those displaying symptoms. As Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action pointed out in the national press on Saturday, this would risk missing those who are asymptomatic or have yet to develop symptoms. She has therefore called for testing of all those among the survivor population who are over 60 years of age or suffering from multiple underlying health conditions as an urgent priority. Staff from Sambhavna are also working with survivor groups and volunteers to update their existing action plan for safeguarding survivors to best utilise this new support from the state government. You can read about the existing action plan on the homepage of our website:
We will be sharing all the details of the updated action plan and its implementation as soon as the information becomes available. In the meantime, although it comes later than hoped, we welcome this government intervention in support of the survivors and hope that it will help to limit the spread of the virus and the number of resulting deaths. We would like once again to thank all the staff of the Sambhavna and Chingari clinics, community volunteers, members of survivor organisations and government workers on the ground in Bhopal for their incredible efforts to protect Bhopalis from the spread of Covid-19. After 35 years of suffering the effects of gas exposure and contaminated water, the incredible spirit of the Bhopal survivors remains unbroken even in the face of this new tragedy. Although they may be one of the most vulnerable communities on earth, they are also one of the most resilient, hard-working and compassionate. It is time the world takes notice so we can both support them in their struggle and learn from their incredible example.