Are Our Hospitals Now Splitting Covid-19 Patients Into Wards Based on Faith?


Are Our Hospitals Now Splitting Covid-19 Patients Into Wards Based on Faith?

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

Even as the world grapples with the coronavirus outbreak and all the consequences it carries in its wake, it is perhaps only in India where a pandemic can drive our religious faultlines even deeper.

In a rather controversial move, a government hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat has gone ahead and split its Covid-19 wards on the basis of religion. Citing it as an instruction from senior government officials, the authorities at Ahmedabad Civil Hospital in Asarva separated Hindu and Muslim coronavirus patients in the 1200-bed facility, three days ago.

While generally there are separate wards for male and female patients, medical superintendent Dr Gunvant H Rathod stated that the hospital authorities had merely done whatever had been asked for “based on the decision taken by the state government.” But cut his conversation short with Deccan Herald by expressing, “I have nothing to add and I don’t want to comment.”

However, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel denied any knowledge of such a decision and told the Indian Express that he would “enquire about it.” Meanwhile, Ahmedabad district collector KK Nirala said that he had no idea about the move. “There has been no such instruction from our side and we are not aware of any such government decision,” Nirala added.

However, in compliance with stated hospitalisation protocol, a suspected Covid-19 patient is to be kept in a separate ward from those confirmed, as long as the test results are pending. Out of 186 patients admitted in the hospital for coronavirus, around 150 are said to be positive. Moreover, sources in the hospital have also said that at least 40 of the 150 confirmed patients belong to the Muslim community.

“On Sunday night, the names of 28 men admitted in the first ward (A-4) were called out. We were then shifted to another ward (C-4). While we were not told why we were being shifted, all the names that were called out belonged to one community,” Indian Express quoted a patient. “We spoke to one staff member in our ward today and he said this had been done for ‘the comfort of both communities’.”

An officer at the hospital however claimed that the decision was taken after the hospital staff complained that Covid-19 patients, “mostly from the minority community” would loiter around in other wards and received lots of relatives. “After observing these movements, we apprised senior authorities who decided to restrict these movements,” quoted the Deccan Herald. Stating that the hospital had over three to four dozen suspected cases and unnecessary movements would risk the spread of the virus. “This decision has nothing to do with their faiths.”

Netizens have expressed their disappointment at a move that is anything but a definition of a “secular” India.

Among those who expressed their displeasure was public interest lawyer and civil activist, Prashant Bhushan.

However, on Wednesday, the Health & Family Welfare Department of Gujarat denied the accusations and tweeted that “these reports are absolutely baseless.” It further added that “Patients are kept in different wards based on their medical condition, severity of the symptoms and age, purely based on the advice of treating Doctors. Therefore, reports that appeared in certain media are totally baseless and misleading.”