But this also proves to be a difficult task as the prices of oxygen cylinders, concentrators and essential medicines have gone up in the illegal market.
Anshu Priya spent most of Sunday searching for an oxygen cylinder, while her mother-in-law’s condition continued to deteriorate. She could not find any hospital beds in Delhi or on the outskirts of Noida. His search for the oxygen cylinder was also futile, forcing him to resort to clandestine trade.
He paid a large sum of 50 thousand rupees (R $ 3,662) to buy a cylinder in the illegal market, which is almost ten times more than the value in normal times (6 thousand rupees).
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Her mother-in-law is also having trouble breathing and Anshu is now worried about her. She says she may not be able to buy another cylinder by herself in the illegal market.
The BBC also called on several oxygen cylinder suppliers, most of whom charged at least 10 times the normal price.
Anshu is not alone. Hospitals in many cities, including Delhi, Noida, Lucknow, Allahabad and Indore, were without beds, so families depended on improved arrangements at home.
The situation in Delhi, where there are no ICU beds, is particularly worrying. Families – those who can afford it – hire nurses and consult remote doctors to keep their loved ones alive.
Entrance to Govt-19 Patient Hospital in New Delhi, India This Saturday (24) – Photo: Sajjad Hussain / AFP
More than 300,000 cases are reported a day in India. On Monday, the country reported the highest daily daily corona virus cases for the fifth day in a row, with 352,991 new infections and a further 2,812 deaths in the 24-hour period.
This sharp increase has placed a burden on the health care system in many cities and families have no choice but to provide what they can to their sick relatives at home. But the challenge is huge, from doing blood tests to taking a CT scan or X-ray.
Labs are overloaded and it takes up to three days for test results to return, making it very difficult for clinicians to assess the progression of diseases and prescribe appropriate treatment. CT scans are also used by them to assess the patient’s condition, but it can take time to make an appointment.
Doctors say these delays put many patients at risk. RT-PCR tests used to detect the presence of corona virus are also days.
The BBC was aware of the cases of several sick patients who were diagnosed with a bed, but could not admit it due to their lack of a positive Govt diagnosis.
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Anuj Tiwari was one of those who hired a nurse to treat her brother at home for failing to admit him to the hospital.
Some said they did not have access to beds and others did not accept new patients due to persistent uncertainty about oxygen supply.
Many patients died due to lack of oxygen supply in Delhi. Hospitals in the city are extremely pessimistic, issuing some daily warnings, claiming that there is only a few hours of oxygen.
Then the government takes action and sends the cylinders, which is usually enough to keep the hospital for only one day.
According to a doctor in Delhi, how hospitals operate, “there are now real fears that a major tragedy could occur”.
Depending on the situation in the hospitals, Tiwari could extract oxygen from the air – to buy a concentration for his brother to breathe.
The doctor also asked him to give Remdecivir, an antiviral drug widely approved by doctors, approved for emergency use in India. The benefits of the drug – originally developed to treat the Ebola virus – are still being debated worldwide.
This Saturday (24) a patient is waiting to be treated on a stretcher at a hospital in New Delhi, India – Photo: Sajjad Hussain / AFP
Tiwari could not find the drug in any pharmacy and was able to resort to the illegal market. His brother’s condition is critical and the doctor says he needs a hospital soon.
“No beds. What am I going to do? Can’t take it anywhere else because I already spent a lot of money, I don’t have much left over,” he said.
“The Govt has moved from desperate war hospitals to save patients” and this has proven to be an even harder task because “we can’t easily access oxygen”.
Because remtacivir is so scarce, families of patients receiving home treatment are rushing to get it. The patient should be admitted to the hospital and they prefer to have medication if needed.
The BBC spoke with several traders in the illegal market. The offer is restricted, which is why they charge more, they said. The government allowed seven companies to manufacture the solution in India and said to increase production.
But many of the promises made by the Indian government to provide adequate supplies have not been fulfilled. Archaeologist Lalit Kant says the decision to increase production was taken too late and the government should be prepared for a second wave.
“But somehow the drug is available on the illegal market, so there is a leak in the distribution system that the regulators could not plug in,” he says.
“We didn’t learn anything from the first wave.”
Another drug in high demand is doxycycline. It is commonly used to treat arthritis, but studies show that it can reduce the chances of a patient using a respirator.
Doctors prescribe this drug to patients who are seriously ill. But he disappeared from the market. Cipla, an Indian company that imports and sells drugs, is trying to meet the growing demand.
Typically, a 400 mg bottle of the drug costs about 32,480 rupees (R $ 2,380). But Kamalkumar paid his father 250,000 rupees (R $ 18,318) to buy a dose. He said the price was “incomprehensible”, but he had no choice.
But very few people in India can afford to spend so much money on a drug and are exploited in desperation to save their loved ones. Public health expert Anand Ban said the government should have bought more of the drug.
“Many people are unable to pay the official price of the drug and forget the illegal market price. It shows that there is no plan. The government has failed to anticipate the waves and is not planning for that,” he says.
“People are abandoned to their own destiny.”
As the demand for drugs increased, counterfeit versions of the drug appeared on the illegal market. When the BBC told a dealer that the drug he was giving was counterfeit, the company that made it replied that the drug was “100% original” because it was not on the list of licensed manufacturers in India.
The packaging was full of misspellings. Despite this, he asked us to test this in any laboratory. This company is not on the Internet.
But the frustration is so great that people are willing to buy even drugs that look questionable. And some fell victim to fraud. People are constantly sharing the phone numbers of suppliers who can deliver anything from oxygen to medicines. But not all of these numbers have been verified.
An information technology official, who declined to be identified, said he was desperate to buy an oxygen cylinder and received a contact via Twitter. When he contacted the person, he was instructed to pay 10,000 rupees (R $ 732) in advance.
“The moment I sent the money, that person blocked my number,” he said.
The agony of saving the lives of family members leads people to believe in anything when needed, which seems to fuel the illegal market. Several state governments have pledged to stop the commercialization of Remedieser, and some arrests have been made. But secret trade seems invincible.
According to Tiwari, there is no other option but to pay more to people like him.
“We can no longer be treated in hospitals. Now, we can’t even save our loved ones at home,” he says.