A catastrophic second wave of COVID-19 has overwhelmed India’s already creaky health infrastructure, with hospitals running out of beds and oxygen, while critical drugs are being sold on a thriving black market.
Social media platforms have been flooded with SOS messages from people pleading for oxygen cylinders and hospital admissions as authorities struggled to cope with the scale of the crisis.
Amid the shortage, many places of worship, including mosques and gurdwaras, across India have come forward to help needy patients and a number of them have been turned into care centres for COVID patients.
Mufti Arif Falahi, head of a seminary in the western city of Baroda, has taken on a different job over the past weeks: saving lives.
A part of Falahi’s seminary in the western state of Gujarat, home to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been turned into a makeshift care centre for COVID patients.
On Monday, India recorded 3,754 deaths, a slight dip after two consecutive days of more than 4,000 deaths. Daily infections stood at more than 360,000.
India is the second-worst hit country by COVID-19 with 246,116 fatalities and more than 22 million cases – 10 million added in the last four months. But experts say actual caseloads and death tolls are much higher than the official figures.
Hospitals across India, including in the capital New Delhi and financial hub Mumbai, have run out of space.
Experts estimate that India needs 500,000 more ICU beds to meet the mounting health crisis. The country of 1.3 billion people currently has about 95,000 ICU beds, according to an estimate by the Centre For Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy.
Falahi’s seminary also has a 38-bed isolation facility providing patients with medicine and food. He says they admit people of all faiths to the make-shift centre.
“We are trying to help maximum people, but we are struggling to procure oxygen,” he said, referring to an oxygen shortage that has affected the whole country.
Scores of people have died due to oxygen shortages in hospitals, forcing the Supreme Court to step in and order the creation of a task force of experts to conduct an “oxygen audit”.
At the seminary-turned-COVID centre in Baroda, Dr Jaykar Chtrabuji is one of nine doctors who volunteer there.
“It is really a stressful situation,” Chatrabuji told Al Jazeera, adding that he barely has time to sleep as he works for more than 20 hours a day at times.
“But this is also satisfying because it is helping people. The rich may afford to go to private hospitals but the poor cannot. That’s why we are seeing so many people coming to us,” he said.
“It is becoming hard to decide whom to admit because there is not much capacity,” he said.
In another corner of Baroda – a city of 2 million – Jahangirpura Mosque has also been turned into a 50-bed COVID facility and patients admitted have access to oxygen.
“This is the time that we all should come together to help people; that’s what our religion teaches us,” Muhammad Irfan, mosque trustee, told Al Jazeera.—Agencies