No death due to oxygen shortage in Maharashtra, says Health Minister

Fatalities occurred due to co-morbidities or other medical ailments, says Rajesh Tope

Maharashtra Health Minister and senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Rajesh Tope on Wednesday clarified that there was no record in the State of any death due to shortage of oxygen during the two waves of the pandemic.

His remarks came in the wake of the Union Health Ministry’s assertion that States and Union Territories had not provided any specific information on such deaths.

“We have never said that because of shortage of oxygen a COVID-19 patient has died in any hospital in the State… There is no record of any such case, nor have I made any statement to this effect… The fatalities that have occurred were due to co-morbidities or other medical ailments,” Mr. Tope said.

Massive leakage

Despite Mr. Tope’s assertion, 24 patients, who were on life support at Nashik’s Dr. Zakir Hussain hospital, had lost their lives in April due to shortage of oxygen following massive leakage of the gas from a tanker. At the time, Mr. Tope had attributed the cause of the tragedy to a valve malfunction in the tanker, while ordering a high-level probe to ascertain negligence.

Minister of State (MoS) for Health and Family Welfare Bharati Pawar had, in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha, said health was a State subject and that States and UTs reported cases and fatalities to the Centre as per the detailed guidelines issued by the Union Health Ministry.

“Accordingly, all States and UTs report cases and deaths to the Union Health Ministry on a regular basis. However, no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by States and UTs,” Ms. Pawar had said, responding to the question on whether COVID-19 patients had died on roads and in hospitals due to oxygen shortage.

In her reply, Dr. Pawar however said there was an unprecedented surge in demand for medical oxygen during the second wave and it peaked at nearly 9,000 MT compared to 3,095 MT in the first wave following which the Centre had to step in to facilitate equitable distribution among the States.

Given that an alleged shortage is believed to have resulted in several fatalities in Delhi and other parts of the country at the height of the lethal “second wave”, Dr. Pawar’s statement has drawn strong criticism from the Opposition parties, which have hinted at the Centre’s failure to supply oxygen.

Approach court: Sanjay Raut

Interestingly, Mr. Tope’s coalition colleague, Shiv Sena MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut, said people whose kin had died due to oxygen shortage during the second wave should “take the Union government to court”.

“Many people have died due to oxygen shortage in several States. Their relatives should take the Union government to court…do these people [the relatives] even believe the Centre’s response in Parliament?” said Mr. Raut, whose party is in alliance with the NCP and the Congress in Maharashtra.

State Surveillance Officer Dr. Pradeep Awate told The Hindu that while patients had undoubtedly died of oxygen shortage in parts of the country, there was no provision for authorities to report deaths in such a manner.

“While it is true that there have been fatalities due to oxygen shortage, hospitals usually report deaths giving medical causes…they do not specifically say a patient died owing to a shortage of oxygen,” said Dr. Awate.

A senior district official said the problem in attributing such deaths explicitly to oxygen shortage involved legal problems.

“A death due to ‘oxygen deficit’ usually occurs in cases of choking or drowning and is considered culpable homicide not amounting to murder. If one says COVID-19 patients have died in a hospital due to oxygen shortage, then it would involve a police or government probe and a case would have to be lodged,” said the official, requesting anonymity.

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