BHOPAL: All five persons who died due to coronavirus in Bhopal were victims of the 1984 gas tragedy in the Madhya Pradesh capital, an official said on Wednesday.
On March 21, some organisations working for the survivors of Bhopal gas tragedy wrote to the authorities concerned, saying such people were more vulnerable to the coronavirus infection than normal individuals.
"All the five persons who died after contracting COVID-19 here were victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy," the official said.
The Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Center (BMHRC), a dedicated facility for the treatment of gas mishap survivors, was recently turned into a medical facility for coronavirus patients, causing hardship to these people, Rachna Dhingra, member of the NGO Bhopal Group for Information and Action, told PTI.
The first coronavirus victim from Bhopal, a 55-year- old man, died at a city hospital on April 5 due to negligence of authorities, she alleged.
Another 80-year-old gas tragedy victim, who was a retired employee of the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), was also not given due medical care.
He died on April 8 and his sample came out positive for coronavirus on April 11, Dhingra said.
Besides, a 40-year-old gas tragedy victim, who was suffering from oral cancer for more than a year, died on April 12 and his sample test report later came out positive for coronavirus, she said.
Another 52-year-old gas mishap survivor, who suffered from a permanent injury, had history of tuberculosis and could not get prompt care for his respiratory problems.
He recently tested positive for coronavirus and died on his way to the COVID-19 ward at Hamidia hospital, she said.
Also, a 75-year-old senior journalist, who survived the gas tragedy, died on April 11 and his sample test report came out positive for coronavirus on Tuesday, she said.
On March 21, some organisations working for the welfare of gas tragedy survivors wrote to the state and central authorities concerned, saying an overwhelming number of gas victims suffer from respiratory, cardiovascular, kidney problems and cancer as a result of exposure to the toxic gas that leaked at the Union Carbide factory here in 1984.
They claimed that these survivors were at least five times more vulnerable to COVID-19 than other people.
Instead of paying special attention to the needs of Bhopal gas victims, the state government took over BMHRCand turned it into a medical facility for COVID-19 patients, Dhingra said.
For last 22 days, no gas victim was even allowed to avail emergency services there, she said.
Dhingra said before BMHRC was converted into a dedicated facility for coronavirus patients, 86 gas tragedy survivors were admitted there.
After it was made a hospital for COVID-19 patients, all except five were discharged.
Out of these five, a 68- year-old woman died at the hospital due to ailments related to the gas mishap, she said.
Besides, out of the gas tragedy survivors discharged from BMHRC, two persons, both aged around 70, died at their homes while another one died at a city hospital due to the gas leak mishap related illnesses, she said.
In a letter to gas relief hospital's monitoring committee chairman, retd Justice V K Agrawal, the NGOs pointed out all these aspects and urged him to re-start the medical facility for gas victims considering their vulnerability.
The NGOs have also filed a writ petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, demanding that gas victims be provided a dedicated medical facility for their treatment, as was the practice earlier.
Meanwhile, taking note of the death of five gas tragedy victims due to coronavirus, the state government has decided to categorise BMHRC as a 'COVID Health Centre' where gas mishap survivors can continue to avail treatment for their ailments.
An order to this effect was issued late Tuesday evening, a health department official said.
"Now, gas victims can continue to get treatment as usual in BMHRC, he said.
Bhopal Divisional Commissioner Kalpana Shrivastava said the earlier decision to make BMHRC a dedicated facility for COVID-19 patients was taken at the "government level".
Dhingra said the Out Patient Departments (OPDs) in other government hospitals of Bhopal continue to remain open for gas incident survivors.
Arif Aqueel, the former state minister of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department, said the earlier decision to close BMHRC for gas victims was not in the interest of these people, and they should be given treatment at this facility on priority, especially in the OPD.