The ongoing crackdown against hoarding and black-marketing of oxygen cylinders across Telangana has created some unintended hurdles for non-governmental organizations, especially in the old city of Hyderabad, who arranged oxygen cylinders at no cost to persons suspected or confirmed of COVID-19.
Social organisations say they have now stopped distribution of oxygen cylinders and this has led to several patients suffering.
On July 10, Telangana chief secretary Somesh Kumar had ordered joint teams comprising officers from Drug Control Administration, Task Force of Hyderabad city police, Director of Public Health and Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives to inspect hospitals and dealers to assess whether sale and utilization of oxygen cylinders have conformed with the guidelines.
The teams were directed to initiate prosecution in case of violation of rules.
Further, Hyderabad police commissioner Anjani Kumar also warned those who indulge in the offence would be booked under the Explosive Act as well as the Disaster Management Act. Six persons have been arrested under these charges and remanded to judicial custody so far.
Several dealers have been issued show-cause notices by the Telangana Drugs Control Administration(DCA) over the last two days.
As NGOs continue to ponder whether they are allowed to carry on their charitable work, Dr. Y Naveen Kumar, joint director of DCA, clarified to indianexpress.com that no one is allowed to hold, stock, transport, or distribute oxygen cylinders without a valid licence and that the same applies to charitable organizations as well.
“Oxygen cylinders come under the category of drugs and we have been conducting raids and issuing show-cause notices to violators. A manufacturer can either supply cylinders directly to a hospital or via a wholesaler and a retailer. In any case oxygen cylinders are not meant for household purposes,” he said
As many as 15 show-cause notices have been issued across the state by DCA in the last two days, and an inquiry into nature and gravity of violations is underway, following which action would be initiated, said the Joint Director.
As of July 13, Telangana has recorded 36,221 confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 12,178 are active and undergoing treatment. Of all the active patients, only 1,844 are in hospitals and rest are in home isolation or institutional care.
Apart from these 10,334 patients who are tested positive for the virus and taking home treatment for their mild to moderate symptoms, several persons have been consulting their local doctors for their mild symptoms and taking symptomatic treatment.
Meanwhile, Mujtaba Hasan Askari of the Helping Hand Foundation, an NGO that has been supplying and refilling over 100 cylinders for free across different parts of the old city of Hyderabad, has no doubts on what has led to the need for a crackdown on sale of oxygen cylinders.
“It is due to fear of visiting government hospitals and lack of funds to access private hospitals that many people from the middle and lower middle class opted for home isolation care after showing symptoms for COVID,” Askari said. According to him, those with shortness of breath along with other symptoms opted for oxygen therapy at home after consulting local doctors for medication.
The key reason for the prices of cylinders to skyrocket, according to him, was the anxiety and panic among many healthy and rich people who, he says, stocked up cylinders leading to a rise in demand.
He said an estimated 1,000 patients have availed the free service of oxygen cylinders from NGOs before the government initiated the crackdown on black marketing and hoarding of cylinders, and that amounted to less than 2 percent of actual supply in the market.
“Oxygen therapy is not a standalone protocol. We have a large team of doctors, counselors, and volunteers taking care of patients at homes. Although no NGO was issued a notice, it has led to chaos and panic and most NGOs abruptly stopped supplies which left the patients in a lurch suddenly. This is leading to an imminent threat to a patient’s life,” he said, adding that the NGOs are awaiting clarity from the government regarding charity work in the wake of COVID pandemic.
Jamaat-e-Islami, another organization that had collaborated with various oxygen cylinders dealers and distributed around 250 cylinders to homes across the old city for free had to abruptly stop the voluntary service post orders from the DCA.
Hamed Mohammed Khan, its state president, claims many persons in his know have already passed away for want of oxygen. “People are so scared and are running helter-skelter for oxygen cylinders. I have come to know 20-25 people who died. There is an acute shortage of oxygen in government hospitals too,” he alleged.
As a stop-gap arrangement his organization has decided to hold talks with various distributors and pay them in advance for a certain number of cylinders.
“Whoever has a valid medical prescription and a token from our office can show it and collect a cylinder directly from the distributors. That way we do not have possession of cylinders. We hope it works out well,” said Khan.
Jamaat-e-Islami had opened centers at Asifnagar, Malakpet, Khilwat, Saidabad, Chandrayangutta, Kakatiyanagar colony, and Golconda, etc for distribution of cylinders. He appealed to the DCA to issue a temporary licence to his organization considering the voluntary service after duly inspecting the infrastructure in place.
“We are not doing business. We request DCA officials to inspect our centers and check if we are following safety guidelines and have the necessary infrastructure in place,” he said.
Barrister @asadowaisi instructed AIMIM GHMC Corporators to assist their constituents in seeking medical care. Those poor who are Covid-19 positive should be encouraged to seek treatment in government hospitals. https://t.co/5UzQPP6Z6t
— AIMIM (@aimim_national) July 13, 2020
A spokesperson from the AIMIM said that party president Asasuddin Owaisi has asked all his 45 GHMC corporators to assist those offering free oxygen cylinders as a service and ask them to register themselves in the local police station and also inform the district medical and health officer(DMHO).
They have also been asked to fulfill any requirement for oxygen cylinders in their respective wards if needed.
As per the medical bulletin shared by the office of director of public health and family welfare on Monday, only 374 patients are in ICU beds across government hospitals treating COVID patients. Whereas, 733 patients are in Oxygen beds and 737 patients are in isolation beds.
On the whole, 15,237 beds of the total available 17,081 beds are lying vacant at the moment. The bed occupancy is at 10.8 per cent as of Monday. All the patients presently admitted in the hospitals for COVID19 treatment require oxygen supply.
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