ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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When Children Die

The death of 70 children in a Gorakhpur hospital indicts us as a nation.

Almost 70 children died in Gorakhpur within days of India’s 70th Independence Day. Could there be a more damning indictment of the real state of affairs in this country? On the night of 10 and 11 August, the Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College and Hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP)—no stranger to medical emergencies and deaths—saw 30 children suffocate to death between 11 pm and 2 am even as their parents tried to desperately work manual resuscitator bags to keep their children alive because the hospital’s liquid oxygen tanks had run dry. As pictures of the gaunt-faced men carrying pitifully small bundled corpses flashed round the world’s media, the state government did what governments in India do best—find scapegoats and set up an inquiry committee. The state government insists that the deaths were due to infection and not negligence or failure to pay the oxygen supplier’s massive and long-pending bill that led to the supply of oxygen being cut. Even before an inquiry is completed, it has arrived at a conclusion and that too without conducting postmortems. Meanwhile, as we go to press, there is news that from 14 to 16 August, another 34 children died in the neonatal intensive care unit and the encephalitis ward of the hospital.

Gorakhpur district has one of the highest incidence of Japanese Encephalitis (JE) in UP, a state that accounts for almost 75% of the annual number of cases in India. This includes those affected by Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), the catch-all name for symptoms that cause inflammatory brain diseases and JE. Given the shortage of primary health centres—only 90 out of the 120 required in Gorakhpur, for instance—the sick have no option but to travel long distances to the nearest tertiary facility. Inevitably, a hospital like the BRD must bear the brunt of treating JE and AES patients, as it is the only referral hospital within a radius of nearly 300 km serving 15 surrounding districts.

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Updated On : 24th Aug, 2017
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