Sulagna*, a resident of Neelasandra near Austin Town in Bengaluru was due for delivery on July 8, but experiencing labour pains on Saturday, she got admitted in a nursing home in her neighbourhood.
The nursing home took a COVID-19 test the same day she was admitted, but decided to push her delivery for Monday. However, when she ended up testing positive for the novel coronavirus, Sulagna was discharged from the hospital, despite being in labour. She was told instead to get admitted at a COVID-19 hospital.
â€śAnd once the test result came back positive on Sunday afternoon, they stopped treating her and removed the saline drip she was given and told her to vacate,â€ť said Roseline Gomes, an activist, working with Swaraj Abhiyan and a friend of the womanâ€™s husband.
She added, â€śShe was in immense pain but still they did not attend to her, telling her to go to a COVID-19 hospital.â€ť
Sulagnaâ€™s husband Devin said their first child who was born a decade ago was also delivered in Asha Nursing Home. He said throughout the consultation period, they had gone to the same hospital, but even then they were met with such treatment.
Speaking to TNM, Dr Gowri who runs Asha Nursing Home did not agree that Sulganaâ€™s family that 'she was thrown out'. She said, â€śIf i did not care, I would not have seen her in the first place. But once she tested positive, I had no way other than to tell them to shift her as I have a small facility and it would also put others at risk.â€ť For many smaller maternity hospitals, patients testing positive has become a matter of huge concern as most times they don't have facilities for isolation or even PPE equipment for staff dealing witth delivery.
Sulagnaâ€™s troubles, however, were far from over. Roseline recounted, â€śSince Sunday afternoon, we tried many hospitals both government and private hospitals but could not manage a bed. Even our calls to the helplines and the BBMP were of no use
â€śEven though the government ambulance came, knowing that she was pregnant they left us again on the road and ultimately we had to arrange our own transportation to another hospital,â€ť narrated Devin.
It was late on Sunday night, at around 10.30pm that Sulagna finally managed to find a bed at a private hospital in Malleshwaram, which admitted her despite not being a designated COVID-19 hospital. The woman delivered the baby at around 7am on Monday morning
And while Devin is thankful that his wife and newborn are healthy and safe, he worries now about the huge bill that he has been given. Devin used to work as a cook and is the sole breadwinner of the family, but has been out of job since the onset of the pandemic.
Devin said, â€śThe private hospital has billed us close to one lakh rupees for a normal delivery. The baby has to be tested as well, they are saying. But till now, they are not giving us any physical proof that my wife is positive.â€ť
The hospital has further asked them to pay Rs 12,000 and Rs 3,000 for the mother and babyâ€™s stay respectively. Left with little money, Sulagna may have to be shifted once again, as the search for a bed at a government facility continues.
Sulagna is not alone in her struggle. With most government facilities for COVID-19 treatment occupied, several low-income families have been forced to go to private hospitals, where they have no option but to break into their life savings to ensure the health and safety of the mother and baby.
Fathima*, another woman who is due to deliver around July 20 is also worried about finding a hospital. The low-income migrant family lives in one of the shanty settlements in Thubarahalli.
Speaking to TNM, her mother-in-law Rohima Bibi said, â€śWith all the government hospitals closed down or all beds occupied we have to only do the delivery in a private medical institute, which will also mean that we have to shell out a lot of money. My son used to work as a school bus driver and his income has been slashed since March-end.â€ť
They had gone to KR Puram Hospital, Victoria Hospital, among others but received no assurance that they would get a bed.
Doctors working in the government facilities said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic only Jayanagar General Hospital has been one of the few government hospitals admitting pregnant women.
Sowmya Reddy, the legislator from Jayanagar said that she is aware of the situation and is trying to take up the issue with the Health and Medical Education Ministers but to no avail.
â€śPeople including pregnant women are being rejected by hospitals as they are coronavirus positive or have similar symptoms and I am constantly getting calls. But despite being an MLA myself I donâ€™t have any information. I can understand what a common man must be going through. I have myself tried calling the government helpline and it simply does not work . So the government has to take up these matters,â€ť she told TNM.
She added, â€śWhy has the government been sleeping for three months and not made adequate infrastructure ready when it was known that the crisis was looming large.â€ť
The MLA and activists working in the grassroots warned that unless there are dedicated facilities for child birth amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be fatalities due to want of medical attention.
R Kaleem Ullah, activist with Swaraj India, said, "This is becoming a pressing issue with every passing day. Just like critical patients needing hospitalisation, pregnant women due for delivery are also vulnerable. It's not good for them to move so much or stress. We want the government to set up dedicated facilities for them."
No official from the BBMP or the Karnataka government was available for comment.