Overwhelmed medical staff did their best – Senior Doctor tells COI


Doctors and nurses who were part of the emergency medical evacuation of the Mahdia dormitory fire victims were ‘overwhelmed’ and though resources were limited, they utilised what was available and performed to the best of their ability.

This disclosure was made by the Head of Surgery at the Georgetown Public Hospital, Dr Shilindra Rajkumar on Friday when he appeared before the ongoing Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the Mahdia dormitory fire.

“I think they were overwhelmed. It was a lot more than they are accustomed to or they were prepared for but I must say that with them being limited in their numbers and their resources, they did a pretty good job dealing with the situation,” Dr Rajkumar testified under oath.

He added, “It was a difficult situation but I think they did well if you ask me. They did the best they could with whatever they had”.

And even if more were available, Dr Ramkumar told attorney Keoma Griffith, who is leading evidence into the inquiry that “I don’t think much more medical help would have reduced the mortality but medical help would have for sure helped because staff were overwhelmed, they were asked to do shifts, they worked 24 hours without sleep and that is where additional help would have been of benefit”.

The deadly fire which occurred minutes after midnight on May 21 claimed the lives of 20 students; 19 girls and one boy.

Dr Rajkumar, who is also attached to the Burn Care Unit at the GPHC, led a team of five doctors and nurses, who were called upon to conduct the emergency medical evacuation.

He detailed the events leading up to their arrival in Mahdia, in what he described as the “most tragic” incident he has ever responded to in his more than two decades of service in the field.

According to Dr Rajkumar, the journey from the hospital to the Eugene F. Correia International Airport at Ogle, and the arrival at the Mahdia was one that was filled with challenges.

“It was very busy….It was chaotic. We arrived there with our supplies which were in two separate vehicles… there was a lot of people there trying to help us unpack and get it into the aircraft,” Dr Rajkumar recalled.

Captain Learie Barclay before the COI

“The airstrip was lighted by cars. There were multiple cars…who put on their headlights so the plane could see how to land. There was lots of activity on the airstrip itself… There were two other aircraft on the ground and we were trying to acquire a vehicle to take us to the Mahdia hospital. The first vehicle I approached was a Police vehicle and the driver offered to take us over (Mahdia Hospital),” he said.

Upon his arrival in Mahdia, Dr Rajkumar told the Commission, which is chaired by Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh, that he was between the hospital and the airstrip, where he assessed the victims.

Based on their conditions, some of the students were evacuated to the city while others remained at the Mahdia hospital. And while only some suffered burns, there were others who were treated for smoke inhalation.

Dr Rajkumar further pointed out that the situation on the ground was impacted due to space constraints.

He told the Commission that there were a number of girls, who were not injured but were “cramped” in a room since they had nowhere to stay. This, he said impacted the response of the medical team.

“There were about 10 to 12 students in a room and there were people going in and checking on them that did not need to be there. They had no injuries. The problem was they were brought to the hospital, their dorm was burnt down. They had nowhere to go sleep, they had no clothing, nothing. So that was a very stressful event for them,” Dr Rajkumar said.

“To have them in an environment where patient care was happening actively was impacting them as well as the function of the medical staff,” he added.

As such, Dr Rajkumar said he intervened and luckily, there was a COVID center in the hospital compound which was not in use at the time and measures were put in place to accommodate the displaced girls there.

A similar account was provided by Captain Learie Barclay who told the Commission that the chaos on the ground did not deter him or other first responders.

Public hearings into the CoI continued on Friday afternoon.

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