It was a tragedy that was waiting to happen. Thirteen precious lives were lost due to short supply of oxygen at the Ruia Hospital in Tirupati on Monday night. Could it have been avoided? From what we know, it could well have been. We do not want to jump to conclusions since a probe ordered by Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is yet to be completed. Nonetheless, facts available in public domain raise questions over maintenance and logistics.
The Ruia Hospital is one of the biggest in the Rayalaseema region and caters to about 1,000 patients at any given time. On an ill-fated night, with the available oxygen exhausted, and the tanker arriving late from Sriperumbudur, hospital staff made frantic attempts to supply oxygen using cylinders. The official account is that the deaths were caused due to drop in pressure while supplying oxygen to the patients on the first floor. This begs the question as to why the tanker from Tamil Nadu was delayed—some reports claim it was late by as much as four-and a-half hours—and whether there was a contingency plan to face exactly such an eventuality. If not, why? These questions must be asked not to indulge in an unsavoury blame-game but to ensure that similar incidents do not recur. It is a fact that the administrative apparatus is stretched thin, fighting an invisible enemy with limited resources round-the-clock. With an active caseload of a little over two lakhs and the state recording over 20,000 cases a day, the oxygen requirement is only going to go up. Currently, the state needs over 600 MT of liquid oxygen while the allotment by the Centre is 590 MT. The chief minister has urged the prime minister to increase the allocation to 910 MT even as the state is making efforts to ramp up oxygen supply by setting up new plants.
Despite the partial curfew in force, the case count is hovering around 20,000 a day, if not increasing further. The only solution is vaccination and strict vigilance. This is a war of a different kind. It demands unity of purpose and humanism. Most tragedies can be avoided if we have these weapons.