While the potentially mortal dengue virus, if contracted, may or may not kill you, the healthcare system in India makes sure you are subjected to immeasurable suffering.
The disease, which has become one of the leading causes of hospitalisation as well as deaths in India in recent times, claimed a seven-year-old child's life in the national capital region, and Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurgaon - where she was admitted - added to the torment of her grieving parents.
In what is a textbook example of gross criminal medical negligence and utterly inhumane behaviour, the reputed hospital allegedly refused to let the parents take the deceased child's body until the couple paid the more than Rs 15 lakh bill, which included the cost of 2,700 gloves.
The seven-year-old, Adya, was admitted to Fortis on August 31 with severe dengue. She died on September 14. According to her parents, the hospital kept her on ventilator support for three days even after she had stopped responding to treatment.
The family's plight went unnoticed until a family friend took to Twitter, and the post went viral.
One of my batchmate's 7 year old was in @fortis_hospital for ~15 days for Dengue. Billed 18 lakhs including for 2700 gloves. She passed away at the end of it. Corrupt assholes.— D (@DopeFloat) November 17, 2017
According to a series of tweets by the friend, the hospital charged the family for 660 syringes, on an average 40 syringes a day and sugar strips — available at Rs 13 per strip — were billed at Rs 200 per strip. “Doctors kept refusing and delaying scans citing ventilator despite repeated requests. CT scans are possible with ventilator. When they finally did, the brain damage was extensive," read one of the tweets.
The Union health minister tweeted, promising to act against the hospital:
Please provide me details on email@example.com .We will take all the necessary action. https://t.co/dq273L66cK— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) November 20, 2017
According to news agency ANI, the girl's father, Jayant Singh, said: "I want to appeal for an investigation and if any changes are required in the laws, they should be made. We would not like other people to suffer like we did."
In its defence, Fortis hospital has claimed to have followed "all standard medical protocols in treating the patient and adhering to all clinical guidelines".
According to a statement by the hospital, the child was admitted with severe dengue which progressed to dengue shock syndrome, and had to be put on life support and required intensive monitoring. The hospital, according to this news report, claimed that the family decided to "take her away from the hospital on September 14 against medical advice (LAMA - Leave Against Medical Advice) and she succumbed the same day".
As far as billing for gloves is concerned, the hospital said, "An itemised bill spread over 20 pages was explained and handed over to the family... Treatment during these 15 days included mechanical ventilation, high frequency ventilation, continuous renal replacement therapy, intravenous antibiotics, inotropes, sedation and analgesia. A Care of ventilated patients in ICU requires a high number of consumables as per globally accepted infection control protocols. All consumables are transparently reflected in records and charged as per actuals."
While the hospital claimed to have been strictly following "standard medical protocols in treating the patient and adhering to all clinical guidelines", how does it explain these charges?
“While we were going through all such situations, two more things that the hospital advised us was to arrange our own ambulance and to pay for the cloth she was wearing during the treatment. We were made to pay even for the last cloth which our daughter was wearing. The last nail was when the ambulance attendant asked for the sheet in which the girl was wrapped as it had a GPS chip for hospital records. We had to pay for that sheet as well,” the girl's father said in a Facebook post.
Fortis, in this case, as in numerous other episodes of medical negligence by private hospitals, is clearly hiding behind a maze of medical jargons and equally complicated protocol. Patients and their families are mostly left clueless during such situations with no option but to quietly "listen to the doctors' advice". And this is not the first time a private hospital has indulged in malpractice of this scale.
Private healthcare institutions are known for charging exorbitant fees for medical services - the more reputed the hospital, the more it charges. The costs of medical services, including diagnostic services, vary from institution to institution. And the private hospitals are able to pull this off mainly because India's public healthcare sector is grossly inadequate and ill-equipped to serve its people.
As a thumb rule, patients avoid going to government hospitals because of the lack of facilities and the accepted-as-norm negligence of doctors. This is where the private institutions step in and cash in on people's misery and mint money.
This, in all likelihood, is not going to change since healthcare is the last thing that concerns the Indian government or its people. Unlike religion, sex lives of individuals, cows, alcohol and black money, healthcare or the abject lack of it has never been an election issue in India.
Why? Because our people too are far more protective about their tradition and culture than to be bothered about healthcare facilities. At least not until someone dies, and sometimes not even after that.
For instance, even as the horrific dance of death was unfolding in a Gorakhpur hospital in Uttar Pradesh, its chief minister was gleefully talking about protecting Hindu girls from the clutches of imagined love jihadis.
No epidemic becomes a political issue unless there is a religious or sexual angle to it. The first batch of Gorakhpur hospital deaths made headlines for a few days also because it involved a Muslim "bad" man who was accused of medical negligence. Thereafter, all deaths in Gorakhpur and elsewhere in India became a routine with no one in the media or political parties raising hue and cry over it.
And this is true of all political parties. No political outfit in India has ever felt the need to make healthcare a poll plank because voters too don't consider it an election issue.
The health of a democracy can be easily gauged from the health of its people and the services available to its most ordinary citizens, irrespective of how rich or poor they are.
India, sadly, has failed to secure both democracy and the life of its citizens.