Photos of a critically-ill man riding pillion sandwiched between two people, who were both wearing PPE kits, have kicked up a political storm in Kerala. Visuals of the incident have been widely shared on social media by supporters of opposition parties who have launched a scathing attack against the Kerala government.
"While the supporters of the ruling Left Front are busy looking at UP, Gujarat and Karnataka, critical patients are pillion-riding to hospitals through country roads, what a shame!" a user wrote.
However, there are now reports underlining that some of the information might have been misreported initially. Here is the incident as it happened.
Are the pictures fake?
No. The videos and pictures being circulated on social media were taken on the morning of May 7, Friday from the Women's Hostel of the Co-Operative Academy of Professional Education (CAPE) Engineering College in Punnapra of Alappuzha district.
What was the incident?
Initial media reports said a patient at a Covid First-Line Treatment Centre (CFLTC) located in Alappuzha district's Punnapra was shifted to a hospital on a two-wheeler after his condition deteriorated. Two volunteers donning PPE kits, as we mentioned earlier, were seen taking the patient to a hospital on a bike with the man clearly struggling to breathe. This raised questions about the facilities available at first-line treatment centres and the availability of medical staff and ambulance services in the government-run institutions.
READ HERE | Controversy erupts after volunteers shift patient to Covid hospital on a bike in Kerala
The district administration told media that the patient wasn't shifted to the hospital on a bike with their permission or knowledge. Later reports made another vital distinction - that the institution was not a CFLTC but a Covid Domicilary Care Centre (CDCC).
What is a CDCC?
Covid Domicilary Care Centres are government-run institutions to help those asymptomatic COVID patients who lack the facilities including a separate room and washroom at their homes to isolate themselves. Unlike CFLTCs, these domiciliary centres don't have medical professionals on duty. "The CAPE campus comes under Punnapra North Grama Panchayat and we don't have any CFLTCs functioning in our jurisdiction till date," said Arun Lal, chief volunteer at the centre.
Are the volunteers medicos?
No. Citizen volunteer teams comprising of local youth are formed to take care of the patients at the domiciliary care centres. Their tasks include food distribution, cleaning and other daily chores.
The 200-bed strong facility in Alappuzha that officially became operational on April 30 is run by a 16-member volunteer squad and currently houses 97 asymptomatic patients
The two volunteers involved in the incident have been identified as Ashwin and Rekha - both DYFI activists and residents of the locality, while the patient is a 38-year-old man hailing from Purakkad village in Alappuzha.
What do the volunteers say?
"We were at the centre in the morning to distribute food when we were informed that the patient on the third floor was struggling to breathe. We learnt that he uses an inhaler, indication that he suffers from asthma, and his oxygen levels had dropped. He was sweating. So, we quickly brought him down and called for an ambulance," Ashwin told The New Indian Express.
Was ambulance service unavailable in Punnapra?
There are enough ambulances in the district right now, the district administration has insisted. Apart from the 108 service, Alappuzha Jilla Panchayat has got 16 ambulances along with 4 ICU ambulances all of which are operated by the district helpdesk -- and also available for COVID duty.
"They said 10 minutes, which is a reasonable time. But his condition was going from bad to worse and we couldn't wait for the ambulance. So, we quickly wore our PPE kits and decided to take him on the bike. People at the hospital said a further delay could have put the man's life at risk," Ashwin said, explaining why they had decided to take matters into their own hands.
How far was the hospital?
Sagara Co-Operative Hospital, one of the prominent medical facilities in Alappuzha, where they shifted the patient to is located within the CAPE campus. The women's hostel is hardly 200 metres away from the hospital and hence Ashwin and Rekha decided to take the man there on a two-wheeler.
"Why should we wait for 10 minutes or more for a hospital when we can get him the help in under two minutes, we thought. The video shows us riding through the college premises to reach the hospital fast. It was rather funny to learn that some people said that the CDCC is located in a remote place," 23-year-old Ashwin said.