Audit deaths due to oxygen shortage during Covid, compensate victim families: Parliamentary panel to govt

The Parliamentary Committee on Health and Family Welfare has recommended that the Union health ministry, along with states, audit the deaths of Covid-19 patients due to shortage of oxygen, especially during the second wave of the pandemic, and ensure proper compensation to the victim families.

After analysing various aspects of the pandemic management, including oxygen shortage, surveillance, and vaccine development and administration, the panel submitted its report on Monday.

In the report, the committee has also urged the government to raise voice to identify the origin of Sars-CoV-2. “The committee, therefore, strongly recommends the government to reckon its diplomacy to appeal to the comity of nations to conduct more studies to identify the origin of Covid-19 and penalise the culprits at the international platform,” the report said.

Oxygen shortage

“There were no definite guidelines for identifying the deaths due to inadequate supply of oxygen. Oxygen shortage is not noted as a cause of death in the medical records and most of the deaths were attributed to co-morbidities,” the committee said in its report.

The committee said that on Union government’s request for details on deaths due to oxygen shortage, 20 states responded but none of them confirmed any. “The committee is disturbed at the unfortunate denial of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare regarding Covid deaths due to oxygen shortage in the country,” the report said.

It said that the government was warned of a possible shortage of oxygen in 2020, when it assured that the country was self-sufficient in oxygen. “The government failed to manage the even distribution of oxygen among states and amid the skyrocketing demand, the government could not maintain a steady flow of oxygen leading to an unprecedented medical crisis,” the report said.

The ministry informed the committee that the daily liquid medical oxygen supply was increased from 1,292 MT per day in February 2021 to 6,593 MT in April 2021. On May 28, 10,250 MT of LMO was allocated to the states. The government also said that 1.02 lakh oxygen cylinders were procured in April and May 2020 and order for another 1.27 lakh cylinders was placed in April 2021.

Vaccine approvals

The committee also questioned the government’s decision on emergency use authorisation to vaccines without any specific provisions in the Clinical Trials Rules-2019 or Drugs and Cosmetics Act-1940. “Ambiguity on the vaccine trials as well as the procedure followed for EUA reflects greatly on the need for making amendments to the Indian laws,” the report said.

The committee also suggested that rigorous assessments be carried out before granting such approvals in future. It also recommended research to optimise the interval between vaccine doses. It also suggested smaller vaccine vials of five doses each to check wastage.

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The committee also questioned India not giving up on the intellectual property rights for Covaxin that was developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with Indian Council of Medical Research.

“…India has been advocating the waiver of intellectual property rights of Covid vaccines at the global level, however, the committee is perplexed to note that the government has taken no major initiative to waive the same for the indigenous vaccine, Covaxin, developed in collaboration with the ICMR,” the report said, adding that possibility of tech transfer to the public sector undertakings must be explored.

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