After complications induced by coronavirus takes their lives, governmental desire to hide facts and, in some instances, societal stigma, robs them of dignity even in death.
As 27 deaths occurred in Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad a few days ago, the Telangana state official health bulletin recorded the total number of deaths in the state at nine for the day, while 10 were reported on Tuesday, mortuary staff confided it was 30 deaths in the apex Covid hospital alone.
The game of truth or dare has been going on under health minister Etala Rajender from the start of the onset of the pandemic.
When it was about under-testing, the government tried to muddy the waters and befuddle the issue with technicalities on ICMR guidelines. It has held the same obdurate stance despite being questioned and chided by the high court and continued to test at the lowest levels in the country for long.
From the same misplaced prioritisation of winning the information war, has the government decided to under-report deaths as well. It is aided in no small means here by social stigmas and fears surrounding healthcare systems in the country.
Several families are choosing home quarantine or treatment to avoid the government hospitals, which more often than not invoke fear of incompetence and indifference, or private hospitals, which bring the dread of inflated bills and redundant treatments.
The deaths in all such non hospitalised cases are straight away discounted as non-Covid deaths, because Telangana has also refused to test the dead. Consequently, contact management fell apart in the state owing to this but the state government held on to its dangerous course.
In many cases, people are afraid to share the information that they are Covid positive, afraid of a severe backlash against them, including stigmatised isolation and boycott, and are instead attributing deaths in the family to other health reasons, often cancer or heart attack.
Despite this, the government of Telangana, whose official tally of 375 coronavirus deaths so far out of nearly 25,000 deaths in India, is not being transparent even in those deaths that take place in hospitals.
Covid has laid bare many public truths, including the reality of our healthcare systems and resilience.
Mortuaries are filled, bodies lying for hours unattended in wards even as in some cases, families refusing to even come and claim them exposes and is a blot on both our government and society, our healthcare system’s woefully lacking competence and disdain in even robbing the dead of their dignity.
Death certificates would have to be fudged, life insurance claims have to adjusted to incorporate lies, families will have to live with uncomfortable memories just so Telangana, which first aspired to have the lowest number of cases in the country by deliberate under-testing and under-reporting, now wishes to have the least number of official deaths in the country, through any means.
We need to be a bit more sensitive to the living and a bit more fair to the dead. And be truthful....