Survivors Left Stranded After Government Requisitions Hospital as Covid-19 Treatment Centre

Hundreds of survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster have been left without access to adequate medical care after local government ordered the requisition of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre for the exclusive treatment of Covid-19 patients in the city. The BMHRC opened in 2001 by direct request of the Supreme Court as a specialist hospital dedicated to the treatment of survivors of the 1984 gas disaster. The hospital has already been through a period of turmoil in recent years, culminating in a mass walkout by staff late last year. On March 23rd 2020, the district magistrate ordered the requisition of the hospital as a Covid-19 treatment centre under administrative control of the state government. On the evening of March 24th the hospital director announced that the centre would be dedicated solely to the treatment of Covid-19 patients and ordered the immediate discharge of all existing patients, including those receiving critical care in the ICU.

Doctors throughout Bhopal are preparing as the coronavirus epidemic is expected to worsen in the coming weeks

The discharge order has left numerous patients with critical health conditions to seek treatment at other health centres in the city, many of which lack the necessary facilities or staff to provide them with adequate care. According to news reports, two patients who were receiving treatment in the ICU at BMHRC have already died since they were discharged two weeks ago. In addition, the lives of 30 patients who were receiving regular dialysis for kidney conditions at BMHRC are now in danger as there are an insufficient number of dialysis machines at other local hospitals to support their ongoing treatment. Hundreds more patients suffering from serious health conditions including cancers, pulmonary diseases, diabetes and hypertension are also at risk and members of the survivor organisations fear many more lives will be lost if their treatment at BMHRC is not restored imminently.

To this end a petition for the immediate re-opening of the facility was put to the supreme court this week by Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action and former BMHRC patient Munni Bee, under the advocacy of lawyer Karuna Nundy. The 68-year-old Munni Bee underwent a tracheostomy at BMHRC on March 11th and was receiving critical medical care in the General ICU until she was forcibly discharged on March 24th. Since then her treatment has been mishandled by staff at another facility and her condition has worsened as a result. The petition to the Supreme Court challenges the legality of the state government’s requisition order of the BMHRC under articles 14 and 19 of the Indian Constitution. It also states that the order breaches the ‘terms of the Trust Deed under which the Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre was set up’ by order of the Supreme Court, which stated that the centre would be dedicated to the treatment of survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster.

Yesterday the Supreme Court Bench, headed by the Chief Justice of India Sa Bobde, ordered that the petition be put before the Madhya Pradesh High Court at Jabalpur at once. The petition should be heard by the court over the coming days, at which point we hope that the court will overturn the decision of the district magistrate and re-open the hospital for the continued treatment of the gas survivors immediately. While we recognise that facilities for the treatment of Covid-19 patients will be required in Bhopal, it cannot be at the expense of the lives of those already requiring treatment for existing health conditions. It is our hope if the petition succeeds that alternative facilities will be made available for the treatment of those with Covid-19, especially as the survivor population in the city is one of the most vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus in the world due to their existing health conditions. We will provide further updates on the situation and the outcome of the court’s decision on the coming days. Until then, as always, take care and remain safe.

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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.