DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And now a dire situation in India - there are record numbers of new coronavirus cases there almost every day. Only the U.S. and Brazil are reporting more. Indians are posting pleas for help on social media. COVID-19 tests are hard to get, and hospitals are full. The health system is collapsing. Here's more from NPR's Lauren Frayer.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: As India's lockdown eased, Kanishk Dutt's (ph) family started going out. And his grandfather started coughing. He's 77 and has a heart condition.
KANISHK DUTT: He was having breathing problems. And that's when we realized and decided to take him to a nearby hospital, which actually refused to take the patient.
FRAYER: The hospital turned them away because his grandfather had not had a COVID-19 test and they couldn't administer one there. So they went to another hospital, but it was full.
DUTT: We are running from hospitals to hospitals, and his condition was such that he was not in his senses.
FRAYER: Finally, they went to a private clinic, which tested him for about $60. Most Indians would not be able to afford that. Dutt's grandfather was positive, but the clinic didn't have a bed for him, so Dutt is taking care of him at home. India's free public hospitals are overflowing. Private ones are charging up to a thousand dollars a day for intensive care, and many of them are even full. Even the rich and famous now find themselves in the same boat as everyone else.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Please, please, I really need your help.
FRAYER: A soap opera star posted a video on Instagram begging for a hospital bed for her mother. Social media is full of desperate pleas like this. Some Indians are dying in parking lots and on sidewalks outside clinics. And if they do manage to get inside...
FRAYER: This video shows corpses in body bags lined up right alongside the beds of live patients on oxygen at a public hospital in Mumbai.
AVINASH SAKNURE: We are not getting rest...
FRAYER: Dr. Avinash Saknure (ph) score works there. He's been on duty 15 days straight without a break.
SAKNURE: ...Not testing ourselves...
FRAYER: He says he and his colleagues are not getting tested for the virus themselves. He doesn't want to know. What will happen to these patients if I have to stay home? - he asks.
Dr. Sonali Vaid (ph) runs a COVID-19 help line in Delhi. She's also a public health expert. And she says India's health system was already near collapse even before the virus hit.
SONALI VAID: Having two patients on a bed and one on a floor is not an uncommon sight, even in pre-COVID times. We've already had broken slippers, and now we're trying to run a marathon with broken slippers.
FRAYER: The government called in early strict lockdown which helped slow the spread of the virus. But it was forced to lift the lockdown amid mass unemployment and even starvation. And now the virus is surging. Dr. Ritu Priya (ph), another public health expert, says India should have used that time to better prepare by possibly even nationalizing private hospitals.
RITU PRIYA: Because 80% of our doctors are in the private sector. There has to be some kind of structure by which they come under command of the public system.
FRAYER: But this far into the pandemic, both public and private hospitals in India's biggest cities are now overloaded. It means that even non-COVID patients struggle to get care.
PROMILA MINZ: (Speaking Hindi).
FRAYER: Promila Minz describes how her 55-year-old mother recently suffered a stroke at her home in Delhi. Minz works as a housemaid. Her family is poor. So Minz rushed her mother to a government hospital - and then to five more.
MINZ: (Speaking Hindi).
FRAYER: Minz says she and her sister ferried their ailing mother around in taxis and rickshaws for 12 hours in 90-degree heat. They spent the night outside one hospital with their mother on a gurney. Finally, Minz's employer managed to call in a favor to a local politician. Her mother is now in intensive care.
Lauren Frayer, NPR News.
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