Ambulance driver ostracised in Odisha for transporting COVID-19 patient

Banamali Sethi faced discrimination from his fellow villagers and apathy from the government for doing his duty

By Priya Ranjan Sahu
Published: Thursday 09 April 2020

An ambulance driver who took a novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19)-infected patient from Odisha’s Kalahandi district to a hospital in Cuttack, was allegedly left to fend for himself for a whole day before being accommodated at a night shelter.

While the driver accused the district health administration for his continuing ordeal, the latter said he was making unnecessary allegations.  

A COVID-19 positive case was reported in Kalahandi on April 4, 2020. The patient was transported on the next day to Cuttack’s Ashwini Hospital, now turned into a special COVID-19 hospital by the state government.

The administration requisitioned an ambulance from a private hospital in Bhabanipatna, the district headquarters of Kalahandi. Banamali Sethi, a driver working with the private hospital, took the patient to Cuttack along with another driver from the district headquarters hospital, Kishore Kumar Sahu.

The ambulance reached Ashwini Hospital on the evening on April 5 where the patient was admitted and returned to Bhabanipatna on the next day, where the vehicle was sanitised.

When Sethi was on way to his home in Datpur village under Sadar block of the district, he got calls from villagers saying he would not be allowed to enter because he had carried the COVID-19 patient.

“I was told to stay somewhere else for 14 days and then come back to the village,” he told Down To Earth.

Sethi went to the owner of the private ambulance who asked him to go to a place to take rest and assured he would send him food. But, he said, he was driven out of that shelter by the locals and was forced to spend the day in the ambulance.

After the intervention of some citizens, Sethi was given accommodation in a night shelter near the district headquarters hospital at 10.30 pm. “I was very tired and wanted to sleep even though I had not eaten properly throughout the day,” he said.

Sethi said he remained hungry on April 7 as the administration had not arranged food for him. “When I went to Kalahandi chief district medical officer (CDMO) Jagulal Agrawal with my grievance, he asked me to go to the district collector,” Sethi said.

After his complaint, the administration made arrangement for food, he said, but alleged its supply was irregular. He added that he would be starving had his employer not supported him.

CDMO Agrawal, on the other hand, said that from the beginning, Sethi was reluctant to take the COVID-19 patient to Cuttack despite repeated counselling.

“After coming back, he was offered residence in the district headquarters hospital and transport patients as and when required with some additional financial incentives, but he refused,” Agrawal said.

So, the executive director of Bhabanipatna municipality had arranged accommodation and food for him at the night shelter, Agarwal said. A team was also sent to Sethi’s village for counselling and orientation of the villagers on COVID-19, the CDMO said.

Bhabanipatna-based journalist Prasanta Panda said the administration could have treated Sethi in a better way.

“Though a driver of a private vehicle, he helped the government effort by transporting the COVID-19 patient. The administration cannot deny the fact. If a doctor or paramedic is a warrior against the pandemic so is the driver and he should be entitled to all benefits and respect that come under COVID guidelines,” Panda said.

The total number of COVID-19 positive cases has reached 44 in Odisha so far, including 33 in Bhubaneswar, while a total of 2,841 samples have been tested. 

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