Hundreds of Rohingya come ashore in Malaysia

Rohingya refugees work to build a quarantine centre at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia on June 4, 2020. Rohingya refugees are so fearful of failing coronavirus tests that they have fled isolation centres in camps in Bangladesh where the first death of one of the Muslim outcasts has heightened nerves over the spread of the pandemic, according to community leaders. (AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2020

Hundreds of Rohingya come ashore in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: More than 260 Rohingya arrived by boat in Malaysia on Monday, officials said, despite authorities’ efforts to fight the coronavirus by stopping entry of the Muslim minority.
Fears have been growing in recent months that large numbers of the migrants from mostly Buddhist Myanmar are trapped at sea as countries that traditionally allowed them in turn their boats away.
Many previously headed by sea to Malaysia, but authorities have strengthened maritime patrols to prevent illegal entry by foreigners over fears they could be carrying the virus.
Rohingya usually travel either from Myanmar or Bangladesh, where about one million live in squalid refugee camps. Most of those fled a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar and thousands have tried to reach other more affluent Asian nations even if it means risky voyages on crowded, rickety boats.
On Monday a coast guard vessel spotted a suspected migrant boat off the northwest island of Langkawi, and was set to push it out to international waters, authorities said.
But as the coast guards approached, 53 Rohingya jumped into the sea and were detained.
On inspecting the boat, authorities found another 216 Rohingya and the body of a dead woman, according to a statement from a task force overseeing maritime patrols.
“Investigations also revealed the boat was intentionally damaged and... could not be repaired,” the statement said, adding this “resulted in the push-back effort being halted.”
Food and water were provided to the migrants and the boat was taken to Langkawi, where all 269 were detained, it said.
Authorities did not say where the vessel started its journey, or how long it had been at sea.
In April, Malaysia intercepted and turned back a boat carrying about 200 Rohingya, sparking calls from rights groups for the government to soften its stance.
Malaysia says it has turned back 22 boats trying to enter the country illegally since the start of May.
The Southeast Asian nation has long been a favorite destination for Rohingya as it is Muslim-majority and already home to a large number of them.
In recent months, hundreds of Rohingya have been rescued off Bangladesh after being stranded for long periods on boats.
In April, two survivors told AFP that 60 Rohingya died on a boat crammed with hundreds of people stranded in the Bay of Bengal, after Malaysia and Thailand both denied it entry.


Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”