Karan Singh was not being dramatic when he decided to carry the corpse of his eight-year-old son, Suman, over his shoulders to their home. The grief-stricken parents from Gumla district in Jharkhand had no other option after they were denied an ambulance to ferry their son’s body back home. They lost their son on August 6 to malaria—a common and totally curable illness—because the staff at the Sadar Hospital were allegedly not able to ‘source’ the medicine prescribed by the doctors to cure him. The Singhs have been added to the growing list of victims who fall prey to the negligent and often partial medical system that favours the monied population and denies services to the middle class and poor. No doubt Chief Minister Raghubar Das has ordered an inquiry into the matter, but it may be too little too late.
Sadly, this is not the only incident of this kind that has occurred this year. Similar incidents have been documented between May and July in Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow and Bihar. In Etawah, a labourer’s 15-year-old son, Pushpendra, died as the doctors (again allegedly) denied him treatment. The man had to carry his son’s corpse on his shoulders after being refused a mortuary van. In Purna, Maharashtra, another poor labourer was denied a van by the hospital to transport his wife’s body back home. In Banda, Uttar Pradesh, a family had to carry the body of their son in an open rickshaw. A man from Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh, was forced to carry his seven-year-old niece's corpse on a bicycle.
Pleas for an ambulance fall on deaf ears. Such apathetic treatment is meted out by the medical professionals only to the poor, who are treated worse than cattle. Do we not respect the dead, or will our bereavement be dictated by our bank accounts? Ambulances are hard-pressed since they are fewer in number and often unreachable in an emergency given the perennial traffic. However, it is true that ambulance becomes especially efficient if the patient concerned is a politician or a wealthy person, or their kin.
Arguably, the poor are not treated well even when they are living, so why should it be different when they are dead? This twisted argument does not change the fact that according to the Constitution every human being—irrespective of caste, economic status or gender—is entitled to a life of dignity, even in death. We are the only species who have codified death rituals to ensure that our dearly departed journey to the other world, washed, dressed and consecrated.
What ails our medical system? For instance, in Delhi there are merely 150 state-run ambulances to ferry over 22 million people. This works out to be one ambulance for every 1,44,736 people. It is a far cry from what the World Health Organization recommends; according to their standards, there should be at least one ambulance per one lakh people.
Moreover, it is not just the lack in number of vehicles that effects the efficiency of our ambulances. Of the 150 vehicles in the capital, only 10 are equipped with life systems and medication. The rest are just white vans with stretchers. In these conditions, it becomes very difficult to provide medical attention to anyone who is facing an emergency. In poorer contexts, one is just forced to carry one’s dead, because in our government hospitals there is a paucity of facilities compared to the number of sick, ailing and dying. Until this imbalance is corrected, incidents such as these would continue and families would face heart-wrenching situations. firstname.lastname@example.org