Survivors of the 1984 gas leak tragedy have claimed that they were disproportionately falling victim to the coronavirus and comprised 75% of Bhopal’s COVID-19 deaths.
In a letter to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, they said that those exposed to the toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) that had spilt out of the Union Carbide’s pesticide factory years ago are now bearing the brunt of the epidemic in a severe way.
Deaths among the gas leak survivors caused by the novel coronavirus establishes the fact that even after 35 years of the world’s worst industrial disaster, their medical condition is as fragile, having suffered permanent damage due to the exposure, the letter said.
NGOs working for survivors have carried out an analysis that claims that 48 of the 60 patients, who died due to coronavirus till June 11 in the state capital, were also gas victims.
These 48 fatalities included three persons who were born to parents exposed to the toxic gas leak 35 years ago, the NGOs' analysis said.
“It is precisely for this reason that we are requesting the chief minister to correct the figures in the curative petition pending in the Supreme Court and seek adequate compensation of Rs 5,21,322 for the permanent injury caused to them by Union Carbide & Dow Chemical,” Rashida Bi, a survivor and activist, said.
This is not the first time the survivors have flagged the issue of how they are at a higher risk of the coronavirus when compared to the general population.
The organisations had written to several state and central government officials on March 21 and April 23 apprising them of the fact that gas victims were five times more vulnerable to COVID-19 and if special attention was not given to them, many would succumb to the virus.
“The analysis of 60 deaths shows that among the COVID-19 deaths of people under the age of 60, 85% of those who had survived the gas tragedy. It is not only the older gas victims who are dying, an overwhelming number of younger survivors are also succumbing to COVID-19”, said Nawab Khan, another senior volunteer.
Among the survivors of the gas leak tragedy who lost their battle to coronavirus, 81% had comorbidities (pre-existing health conditions) as a result of exposure to the toxic gas decades ago.
About 75% of the gas victims died within five days of being taken to hospitals, while 84% died within 24 hours of hospital admission.
“That is why we stressed on testing and monitoring high-risk gas leak survivors. Despite the MP High Court order of April 21 which directed the ICMR-run Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre to test gas victims visiting its hospital, several suspected cases were turned away. This refusal to admission and referring to another government hospital has led to the death of at least five gas leak survivors who later tested positive and crucial time was wasted in denying them admission. While this criminal negligence continues in BMHRC, ICMR has turned a blind eye to the plight of one of the most vulnerable people,” said Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information & Action.
The groups working for the survivors have come out with the right analysis," said Purnendu Shukla, a member of the Supreme Courts Monitoring Committee for Gas Victims.
"The government should take the analysis seriously. The state government does not even have data of gas victims which is very disturbing. We are going to inform the court about these things," he added.
(With inputs from PTI)