Hos­pi­tal cri­sis claims 60 chil­dren’s lives

Head of fa­cil­ity sus­pended as state and lo­cal of­fi­cials trade blame over fund­ing

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

NEW DELHI — In­dia’s north­ern state of Ut­tar Pradesh has sus­pended the head of a hos­pi­tal where at least 60 chil­dren died, while the fed­eral health min­is­ter on Sun­day vowed ac­tion against the cul­prits, as state and hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials traded blame over fund­ing mat­ters.

The govern­ment in Ut­tar Pradesh, run by In­dia’s rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party, sus­pended the head of the staterun BRD Med­i­cal Col­lege, Ra­jeev Misra, late on Satur­day and or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into con­tracts to sup­ply oxy­gen.

Me­dia have said the deaths of the chil­dren, 34 in­fants among them, were caused in part by an oxy­gen short­age af­ter a pri­vate sup­plier with­drew its equip­ment over un­paid hos­pi­tal dues.

Hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials have de­nied this, say­ing al­ter­na­tive sup­plies had been found, and blamed many of the deaths in­stead on the dis­ease en­cephali­tis and un­spec­i­fied is­sues re­lated to de­liv­ery of the in­fants.

On Sun­day, J.P. Nadda, health min­is­ter in Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s cabi­net, vis­ited the hos­pi­tal in the town of Go­rakh­pur, 800 kilo­me­ters east of New Delhi, ac­com­pa­nied by the state’s chief min­is­ter, Yogi Adityanath.

Nadda promised “strict ac­tion” against the cul­prits in an in­ter­view with the news chan­nel NDTV, be­fore his de­par­ture from the In­dian cap­i­tal.

The is­sue of the un­paid bills for oxy­gen sup­ply has be­come a flash­point in re­la­tions be­tween the hos­pi­tal and the state govern­ment, af­ter the sus­pended hos­pi­tal chief on Satur­day ac­cused state of­fi­cials of ig­nor­ing his re­quests for money.

“I wrote at least three let­ters,” Misra told tele­vi­sion re­porters on Satur­day, adding that he had even flagged the is­sue in video con­fer­ence dis­cus­sions.

Reuters was un­able to im­me­di­ately con­tact Misra to seek his com­ments.

The Ut­tar Pradesh health min­is­ter de­fended the govern­ment’s role, say­ing no is­sue of un­paid bills had been brought to its at­ten­tion and all re­quests for funds were paid promptly.

Pres­sure on govern­ment

Op­po­si­tion par­ties have stepped up the pres­sure on the state govern­ment, de­mand­ing the res­ig­na­tions of Adityanath and the state health min­is­ter.

“Ut­ter fail­ure of Chief Min­is­ter Yogi’s govern­ment, who have the blood of more than 60 lives on their hands,” the op­po­si­tion Congress party said in a mes­sage on so­cial net­work Twit­ter.

Ut­tar Pradesh is In­dia’s most po­lit­i­cally prized state, where the BJP’s thump­ing vic­tory has strength­ened Modi’s claim to a sec­ond term in 2019.

Go­rakh­pur, a down-at-heel town near In­dia’s bor­der with Nepal, is Adityanath’s political base, which elected him to par­lia­ment five times be­fore Modi asked him to lead Ut­tar Pradesh, af­ter a land­slide BJP elec­tion vic­tory in March.

But the town’s health fa­cil­i­ties are seen as de­fi­cient, with a study of govern­ment data by non­profit body Brook­ings In­dia show­ing the dis­trict has a 26 per­cent short­age of pri­mary health cen­ters.

En­cephali­tis out­breaks kill hun­dreds in In­dia every year, es­pe­cially dur­ing the mon­soon sea­son.

In­dia spends about one per­cent of GDP on pub­lic health, among the world’s low­est. In re­cent years, Modi’s govern­ment has in­creased health spend­ing and vowed to make health­care more af­ford­able.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Rel­a­tives mourn at the Baba Raghav Das Hos­pi­tal in Go­rakh­pur, Ut­tar Pradesh, on Satur­day.

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