FIROZABAD, Uttar Pradesh — His 10-year-old daughter Sakshi died on 13 September, three days after she first started feeling sick, Narsingpal said, as his wife Savita, looked wordlessly into the distance. He recalled that she was in pain when he bundled her into an autorickshaw in a desperate bid to reach a third private hospital. The second one did not give him an ambulance.
Narsingpal said that he had heard about the pathetic state of the government hospitals in Firozabad, the district worst hit by what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh is calling a Dengue and viral outbreak.
The second private hospital told him that they cannot save his daughter and that he should try somewhere else, but he could only take her after he paid the Rs 3,000 of the Rs 5,000 that he owed them, Narsingpal said. He begged his relatives to loan him the money. Shortly after he reached the third hospital, she died. He came home, sitting at the back of a motorcycle, holding her dead body. They too did not give him an ambulance.
“I was running around with my daughter in my arms, begging for someone to save her. The government has failed us. There is no government here,” he said.
“She was my only daughter. My eldest. My favourite. I’m so angry. They injected 3,000 rupees worth of medicine into her small body. She had swollen up. She would have lived if she had got proper care. She would have lived if she was not poor. Who is responsible for her death?” he said.
On 15 September, The Times of India (TOI), citing sources in the state health department, reported that over 12,000 people in Firozabad were bedridden because of viral fever, and over 100 people including children had died. Local observers say the government is suppressing how many people have been infected and the death toll. Many people are not even reaching hospitals – government or private – preferring to consult a doctor and recover at home.
“The government has failed us,” was a sentiment that we heard over and over again in four affected villages of Firozabad — Nagla Aman, Nagla Kapavli, Nagla Bharatpur, and Nagla Chunaura — that we visited in a periphery of about two kilometers.
Sakshi was the first child who had died in Nagla Chunaura, and more people were falling sick, villagers said.
In Nagla Aman, the worst-hit village of Firozabad, villagers say that at least seven people have died since the outbreak of disease and infection in August, with many people in almost every family falling sick.
Earlier this month, India Today reported that the first case of Scrub Typhus — a bacterial disease that is being reported in Mathura and Meerut — was found in Nagla Aman. Last week, top doctors at the Firozabad Government Medical College told us that the district was only plagued by dengue and viral fever while blaming the outbreak on poor sanitation.
We saw the locked houses of the people who had fled the village, made up of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Scheduled Castes (SC).
Villagers say that they have spent 1.5 crores on hospital bills.
Poor people in the village have had to resort to local doctors and clinics, some with dubious credentials, because the government hospitals are full, and they could not afford private hospitals, especially since most families have multiple people falling sick.
Reeling off the names of sick people in her family — Anil ki beevi, chachi and Santosh ka ladka — Munni Devi, a poor woman from the SC community, said, “I’m feeling sick right now, but poor people like us get no help in hospitals. There is no one to hear us. These quacks give relief with very little money.”
Earlier this week, the UP government registered an FIR (First Information Report) against eight quacks and sent notices to 200 unregistered clinics, blaming them for the rise in cases of sick people, TOI reported.
In Nagla Bharatpur, Vikham Singh Yadav, a retired police constable, whose 39-year-old son Shyam Saran was sick with Dengue, said that he took him to a private hospital in Agra for treatment because they could not find a bed in Firozabad.
Pointing to one woman who was vomiting across the muddy lane dividing their house, he said, “The disease is spreading, people are going into debt to save their loved ones, but we see no government plan to control it. We were not so disturbed even during Covid.”
In Nagla Kapavli, where we met the families of two teenagers who had died, families said that they were almost as bad as Nagla Aman, with almost all families having sick people.
Villagers said that some people had fallen sick more than once, while others were weak and not able to recover.
Rama Devi, an elderly woman, who said she was diagnosed with Dengue in September, told us, “I feel like I’m not getting better. I feel weak and tired all the time. I have body pain all the time.”
Even as they shared pathology laboratory reports that said the patient had Dengue, almost everyone we spoke with said they did not believe it for two reasons: first, they never had a Dengue crisis before, and second, it was spreading as if “by touch.”
Those who could not read pointed to where someone had made a circle around the platelet count, some as low as 18,000, and the word Dengue. Narsingpal, who lost his daughter Sakshi on 13 September, said, “We were told that it was Dengue, but is it? Does Dengue spread like this? Does it kill like this?”
At the Government Trauma Centre in Firozabad, there were sick people lying on benches and stretchers, hooked up to a drip.
A doctor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the disease was in the “incline phase” and the number of beds was “inadequate.”
Ajay Kumar, who had rushed his wife Suhani to the hospital on Wednesday night, told us that his wife was lying on a bench because there were no spare hospital beds at the time.
Kumar said that he was waiting for the test results, but there were others in his neighborhood of Bhavpur in Firozabad who had fallen sick.
“For now, I just hope she can get a bed. How long can she lie on a bench?” he said.
Family after family
We were speaking to Binesh Yadav about the six people who had fallen sick in his family since August when the wheat farmer in Nagla Aman received a phone call.
“My daughter has tested positive for Dengue. Now, she is the seventh in our family,” he said. “How can this be Dengue? This is some virus.”
Pointing to the filthy drains in his village, Yadav said that after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had visited in August, the drains had been cleaned only once, after which the sanitation workers did not return. The day that we visited, the drains were filthy, and rainwater was bouncing off a large green-colored pool of stagnant water, which villagers say could be the cause for the spread of disease and infection.
“No one has come to clean,” said Binesh Yadav. “The government held one medical camp and handed out paracetamol tablets. That was it. This government has done nothing to help us.”
Raj Kamal Yadav, his father, said, “Just because the CM keeps firing the incompetent people, how does that help us? Where are the medical facilities? Who can tell us when this will end?”
“I’m so angry. You are a guest in the village. I would have at least offered you some water or tea, but I dare not. We don’t even know what this disease is. We don’t know what is in our water,” he said. “The whole village is traumatized?”
Arvind Yadav, Yadav’s teenage nephew, said that when he was at a government hospital, there would be power outages in the night. When his platelet count dropped to 13,000, his family rushed him to a private hospital.
“No one listens at a government hospital. They just make you sicker,” he said.
Guddi Devi, a mother of four, told us that all her four children had been sick since August, and the last one Himanshu was still recovering.
Vikas Yadav, who runs a grocery and pesticide store, said that six people in his family including him had fallen sick — his son, wife, mother, younger brother, and his brother’s wife. In his extended family of 25 people, he said that 16 to 18 people had fallen sick. They consulted private doctors and tried recovering at home.
“It was the worst few days of my life. My temperature shot up to 105 and it just would not come down,” he said. “My younger brother’s wife had blue marks all over her body. My wife got sick twice.”
As he was speaking, Vikas Yadav pointed to a man who was passing by on a motorcycle and said, “You see him, he is someone who has fallen sick. He is going home with chaina. It is made from cow milk and it helps keep the platelets up.”
Other home remedies, villagers said, included drinking coconut water and eating papaya.
Kamlesh Kumar, a resident of Nagla Kapavli, said that his 18-year-old nephew Ajay had died of Dengue on 10 September within two days of getting sick.
His wife Sunita Kumar was sick. He had started feeling sick that day and was awaiting his test results.
“I’m only standing because of the medicines the doctor gave me,” he said. “When there was Corona, we would put on the mask and meet each other, but now we are afraid of meeting each other. What is going on?”
In the disease-stricken villages of Firozabad, elders have started telling children, “If you are naughty then the mosquitoes will bite you.”
Raveena Devi, who lives in Nagla Kapavli, lost her 17-year-old daughter Shivani in September.
Raveena’s sister Lakshmi Devi, who was at her house to mourn for her niece, told us that she was the first in her family to fall sick, followed by her four children.
“It was hell on earth. One would fall sick, then the next, then the next, and the next,” she said. “We do not know what is going on? What is this disease?”
In order to pay for their treatment at a private clinic, Lakshmi said that her husband was a laborer, and he had to take a loan of Rs 80,000 from relatives and the man that he worked for in order to pay the bills of a private hospital.
“I don’t know how we will pay off such a loan. Money will come and go. I’m grateful that my children are alive. So many are not,” she said.
Marg Shree who lives in Nagla Aman, said that her 16-year-old granddaughter Kamna had died on 2 September within a day of getting sick.
“I have grown old in this village, and I have never seen anything like it,” she said. “I’m old. I don’t mind dying. She was so young. She should not have died. The heart breaks when the young die.”