Subham Tripathi, a resident of Indira Nagar, Lucknow, was running from pillar to post to arrange an oxygen concentrator machine or a cylinder for his mother who tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday.
The family tried to get her admitted to a hospital, but most hospitals in state capital, Lucknow, denied admission, saying there were no beds. With her oxygen saturation steadily dropping, the family’s doctor advised them to put the patient on oxygen support. But this proved to be yet another ordeal for the family.
“The local trader at Talkatora Industrial area asked me to pay Rs 60,000 for an oxygen cylinder, which usually costs Rs 6,000. I pleaded with him to consider the grave situation and reduce the price, but he refused, saying people were queuing up outside the centre and fighting for the same oxygen cylinder,” a distraught Subham told NewsClick who could not do anything but pay the huge amount after borrowing to save his mother.
According to Tripathi, oxygen cylinder centres and refilling plants across Lucknow are charging 10-fold higher prices and black marketers are making a profit from it. “Black marketers in Lucknow and adjoining districts are taking advantage of situation since the rates are not fixed. Families are being charged any amount looking at the appearance of the kin,” he said.
With cases spiralling to unforeseen levels, and hospitals running out of beds, the demand for oxygen cylinders has increased exponentially, as people try to save their dear ones at home.
Relatives and family members of COVID-infected patients have been queuing up whole night outside every medical store and oxygen centre to purchase or refill oxygen cylinders.
While suppliers say they can’t meet the demand since it is outstripping production capacity, family members of patients claim that oxygen cylinders and lifesaving drugs which have gone off the shelf and are being sold in the black market at exorbitant rates by suppliers.
Naresh Gautam, whose wife tested positive, said he had to rush to Alambagh to get an oxygen cylinder but returned empty-handed after the oxygen contractor asked him to pay Rs 55,000 per cylinder.
“My wife is tested COVID-19 positive on Friday night and since then has been complaining of breathing problems. Besides, her oxygen level continues to fluctuate. I went to several hospitals to get her admitted but no beds are available in Lucknow. Then I decided to buy an oxygen cylinder and reached Alambagh, but I was disappointed that the trader started bargaining for the cylinder despite knowing that my wife is battling for life,” Gautam, an associate professor at a private university, said. He returned in anguish after having failed to get a cylinder. He has now applied for a hospital bed through the government system and is waiting for his number to come.
Sunita Sahyog, a member of the Sahyog and Health Watch Forum based in Lucknow said suppliers were charging arbitrary amounts of money for cylinder, refill oxygen cylinder and injectable drug, Remdesivir. She said Remdesivir, which costs around Rs 2,000, was being sold at Rs 15,000-20,000 in the black market.
“On Tuesday, a colleague bought three vials of Remdesivir for Rs 35,000 for my mother from Aminabad area,” said a health activist.
Meanwhile, long queues were also seen outside oxygen refill centres in Lucknow’s Chinhat, Aliganj and Talkatora area.
Azra Khan, a social activist based in Lucknow and member of Rihai Manch, who has been helping the needy in getting oxygen cylinders, told NewsClick: “People have to wait for over seven to eight hours or even a whole night to get an oxygen cylinder refilled. They are being charged Rs 3,000 -4,000 for a jumbo cylinder, and if you have to take same on rent, they are charging Rs 18,000.” Remdesivir, which usually cost Rs 1,500 to 2,000, is being sold for Rs 3,500, she said.
Describing the “chaos” in Lucknow and adjacent areas, Khan alleged: “The government has abandoned people and left them to die on the roads, and suppliers and contractors are leaving no stone unturned to kill people without treatment.”
NewsClick also approached an oxygen cylinder supplier in Chinhat area, who said on condition of anonymity: “We are also getting the supply on a higher rate since the past 15 days, after a steep rise in cases. In mid-March, we were supplying 250 oxygen cylinders a day, but in April, the demand has increased and now we are supplying 400-450 cylinders per day”, adding that he was getting oxygen cylinders from Gorakhpur.