Stuck in India for up to a year, 11 Filipino kids and kin return home
Imagine being stranded in a foreign country for up to a year during the peak of a pandemic with your children recuperating from a serious illness. This was the harrowing experience of the families of 11 kids who had come to India from the Philippines for liver transplants between August last year and February this year. They finally managed to board the flight home last week after travel restrictions due to Covid-19 were eased.
The youngest among the patients was one year old, while seven were aged between 13 months and 20 months. One was two-and-a-half years and the oldest was a 15-year-old boy. While waiting for the flight restrictions to be lifted, four of the kids even contracted Covid.
Their families had to extend their stay in hotels and guesthouses in Delhi for several months after the kids had undergone their medical procedures. Dr Anupam Sibal, group medical director and paediatric gastroenterologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, said some of the parents had lost their jobs back home because they couldn’t report to work in time after being stuck in India. This caused financial difficulties for them, while other parents struggled during the extended stay with their children.
“One of the children had moderate symptoms of Covid that required hospital admission. The other three recuperated from the viral illness in the hotel itself, but it was a worrisome time for us,” said Sibal.
Dr Neerav Goyal, senior liver transplant surgeon at Apollo, said it was heartening to find that though they were on immunosuppressive therapy, the four kids infected by Covid did well. “It reinforces the observation that children do well in handling SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes Covid,” he said.
Dr Goyal explained that liver transplant surgery was necessary when patients had a high risk of dying from liver disease in the ensuing weeks or months. “Since Covid isn’t going away anytime soon, many of these patients are unlikely to have survived the period of the pandemic without the liver transplant. That is why the patients, despite several challenges, travelled to India,” he said. “Most of the children received the donor liver from their parents. One of the children received it from his elder brother.”
Before the pandemic, Delhi hospitals regularly admitted hundreds of patients from countries like the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Kenya, Nigeria, Malaysia and the Middle East, where liver transplant isn’t readily accessible. The pandemic has prevented such patients from flying to India, with some too wary to take the risk, given India’s high incidence of infection, said doctors.
“At Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, we treated numerous patients from the Philippines and south Asia in pre-Covid times,” said Sibal. “But after many countries were forced by the pandemic to impose restrictions on travel and movement, a lot of patients have been deprived of life-saving treatment in our country.”
Now, with travel restrictions eased, the doctors hope for a change. Apollo recently admitted a fresh batch of children from the Philippines requiring liver transplant.