Out­rage mounts over dozens of in­fant deaths at In­dia hos­pi­tal

UP chief min­is­ter fac­ing res­ig­na­tion calls

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A key ally of In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi was fac­ing calls yes­ter­day for his res­ig­na­tion after dozens of chil­dren died at a gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tal in north­ern In­dia that suf­fered oxy­gen short­ages. Yogi Adityanath, the chief min­is­ter of Ut­tar Pradesh state where the deaths oc­curred, vis­ited the hos­pi­tal yes­ter­day as an­gry rel­a­tives rushed to the scene de­mand­ing an­swers.

At least 64 chil­dren died over six days at the hos­pi­tal in Gorakhpur, with In­dian me­dia re­port­ing that 30 deaths Thurs­day and Fri­day were from a lack of oxy­gen in the chil­dren’s wards. Sup­pli­ers’ bills had al­legedly not been paid, lead­ing to a short­age that saw pan­icked fam­i­lies us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial man­ual breath­ing bags to help their stricken loved ones. Lo­cal of­fi­cials have con­ceded there was a dis­rup­tion to the oxy­gen sup­ply at the hos­pi­tal, but in­sist the deaths were caused by en­cephali­tis and other ill­nesses, not a lack of avail­able oxy­gen. Adityanath, a fire­brand Hindu pri­est from Modi’s con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ist party, vowed to leave no stone un­turned as he toured the hos­pi­tal in his sig­na­ture saf­fron robes.

‘He will not be spared’

“If the in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds any author­ity guilty of neg­li­gence, he will not be spared at any cost,” Adityanath told re­porters in Gorakhpur, the city he rep­re­sented for nearly two decades. He re­peated that the deaths were caused by en­cephali­tis — a mos­quito-borne virus that ev­ery year rav­ages poorer, east­ern parts of Ut­tar Pradesh, In­dia’s largest state with more than 200 mil­lion peo­ple. But par­ents have re­counted panic and hor­ror as their chil­dren sud­denly be­gan gasp­ing for air amid an ap­par­ent drop in oxy­gen, and nurses handed out man­ual pumps to aid their breath­ing.

“I am a poor man who doesn’t un­der­stand what hap­pens here, but it was clear that day the oxy­gen wasn’t going up. The doc­tors and other staff here were very wor­ried,” Ram Prasad, sit­ting by his two-year-old daugh­ter’s bed­side, told AFP. “They rushed to my kid too and gave us a man­ual pump­ing ma­chine. It was the long­est one-and-a-half to two hours of our lives. We spent the night press­ing that ma­chine so that noth­ing hap­pened to our daugh­ter.”

Oth­ers de­scribed the hos­pi­tal in to­tal chaos, with help­less par­ents car­ry­ing the life­less bod­ies of their chil­dren, cry­ing out for help. “It was very sud­den. We didn’t know what was hap­pen­ing,” Bechna Devi told AFP be­side her three­and-a-half year old daugh­ter Saroj. “Ev­ery hos­pi­tal staffer around us was in a rush and they sim­ply told us to use that pump ma­chine for our child.”

‘Tragedy of epic pro­por­tions’

Gorakhpur’s po­lice com­mis­sioner Anil Ku­mar told AFP on Sun­day that 11 more chil­dren had died at the hos­pi­tal on Satur­day. “But I re­it­er­ate, they were not due to lack of oxy­gen sup­ply,” he said. As anger grew, op­po­si­tion par­ties and gov­ern­ment crit­ics led the charge for Adityanath’s res­ig­na­tion. “The death of in­no­cent chil­dren in Gorakhpur is a tragedy of epic pro­por­tions,” San­jay Jha, a spokesman for In­dia’s main op­po­si­tion Congress party, told AFP.

“The fact that it hap­pened in a state-run hos­pi­tal is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of pa­thetic gov­er­nance. The buck stops with CM Adityanath, as his gov­ern­ment has clearly mis­placed pri­or­i­ties... He should re­sign forth­with own­ing full moral re­spon­si­bil­ity.” The hos­pi­tal’s day-by-day break­down of the death toll showed a jump Thurs­day when 23 in­fants died, in­clud­ing 14 ba­bies at its neo-na­tal unit.

Doc­tors ad­mit­ted that the oxy­gen sup­ply had been dis­rupted for a cou­ple of hours late Thurs­day, but said no deaths had oc­curred at that time. The head of the hos­pi­tal was stood down pend­ing an in­quiry into the oxy­gen short­age, which al­legedly stemmed from nearly $100,000 in over­due bills, some dat­ing back to Novem­ber. “If there is any pend­ing pay­ment which is yet to be made to any gas sup­plier, then it should be done im­me­di­ately,” se­nior state health of­fi­cial Anita Bhat­na­gar Jain told the Press Trust of In­dia on Sun­day. “There should be no short­age of oxy­gen... and ad­e­quate stock of oxy­gen must be main­tained.” Adityanath, who won Ut­tar Pradesh in a land­slide in March for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or­dered a re­view of oxy­gen supplies in the state’s hos­pi­tals and med­i­cal col­leges.

— AP

GORAKHPUR: Chil­dren re­ceive treat­ment at the state-run Baba Raghav Das Med­i­cal College Hos­pi­tal where 35 chil­dren died in three days.

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