Mumbai: Families run from pillar to post to give the dead a final adieu amid lockdown
Families of people who passed on at home claim they are unable to get an ambulance or hearse vehicle to transport the body; many of them didn't even die of COVID
It's not a good time to die, especially at home. Families claim that it takes several hours, or worse, even days, before an ambulance can transport the dead to the hospital for an autopsy, or to get a death certificate.
Chandrakant Motiwala, 45, a resident of Agar Bazar in Dadar, breathed his last at his elder brother's home, around 9.10 am on Saturday. While his brother, a tailor, tested positive for COVID-19, Motiwala, who was a heart patient and was suffering from hernia, died of an unidentified illness.
His nephew Naynesh, 20, said, "My uncle was without a job and was staying with us, due to his poor health condition. When he breathed his last in the morning, I contacted numerous numbers, including the 108 ambulance service, requesting them to help us take my uncle to the hospital, so that we could get a death certificate. We tried to contact the local ward office, but no help came."
It was only six hours later that the family managed to get an ambulance, and the body was taken to JJ Hospital.
"At JJ Hospital, the doctors refused to give us a certificate. Luckily, a general practitioner agreed to certify the death, after going through his health records," said Naynesh. The family conducted his last rites at Shivaji Park crematorium, late on Saturday evening.
Advocate Godfrey Pimenta, trustee of Watch Dog Foundation, who was contacted by a building resident seeking help for the family, said the local BMC ward's office inaction was shocking. He sent an email to the BMC chief, Chief Secretary, and the CM's office, seeking intervention. "It is a sad state of affairs. There are no ambulances to ferry patients or the dead," said Pimenta.
Jolly Antony, a social activist living in Marol, Andheri East, has witnessed the hardships that the next of kin have to go through to arrange an ambulance or hearse vehicle to take the bodies to the crematorium. The situation is worse, if the person dies of COVID-19.
Jolly recalled how Mathai Varghese, 57, a resident of Thakur Complex, Kandivli, was unwell two weeks ago and his wife Aliemma, 55, had tried to take him to all possible hospitals, only to be denied admission due to non-availability of beds. Mathai eventually died at home. Aliemma tried to arrange for an ambulance, but was unsuccessful.Jolly added, "I had to intervene with the cops. An ambulance arrived eight hours later. Mathai tested positive for COVID-19 and Aliemma is in quarantine."
In another case, Radha Velayudan, 78, a resident of Sakinaka, expired at her home on May 31. She died of a heart attack at 2.30 pm. A local corporator had to intervene to get a death certificate. "It is unfortunate that during the pandemic, those who die at home are deprived of an ambulance."
The problem, said Jolly, is that in several cases, families of the deceased hide the patient's medical history. "An undertaker from Marol, who had gone for a burial, was not informed about the deceased testing positive. He only realised something was wrong, when he later started showing symptoms. The fear of getting the infection is preventing ambulance drivers from transporting bodies, too. The government should seriously look into their plight and provide better facilities and insurance cover to ambulance service providers. They are also frontline warriors," said Jolly.
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