Not in the pink of health

In India 125 lakh babies die within a year of being born which is one in every four infant deaths in the world making the countrys infant mortality rate of 471000 live births a lot worse than neighbouring Nepal Sri Lanka and Bangladesh Childbirth complications pneumonia and diarrhoeal

infections cause two in three infant deaths under the age of one year
Almost all are avoidable Most happen because parents cannot or do not take their sick baby to a health centre or a doctor for the necessary treatment

Whats shameful is when parents lose their baby not to a disease or complication but to incompetence or the apathy of the staff at a hospital or health centre And apathy is a charge that keeps cropping up at government centres with Srinagars GB Pant hospital being the latest to join the ignominious rank of incompetence

Infant deaths in West Bengals Malda Medical College and Hospital made headlines countrywide three times last year but very little has been said in the national media about the 366 babies who have died at the Srinagar hospital this year Perhaps one reason is that infant deaths at the Valleys only paediatric superspeciality hospital have always been shockingly high In 2011 895 babies died there which makes the continuing death rate unacceptable

The average deaths per day at the hospital is almost the same for 2011 and 2012 25 and 26 respectively

Doctors at the hospital and Omar Abdullahs government have been quick to cite poor infrastructure as the cause but the deaths have more to do with mismanagement and incompetence in providing care than a shortage of medical staff and equipment the enquiry report being presented to the government shows

That the state government doesnt care is obvious from the fact that death and disease data from all the hospitals falling under the states Department of Education which governs the GB Pant Hospital are sent to the ministry the Government Medical College principal and the commissioner secretary every quarter each year

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party PDP has called it a genocide and is gunning for Omar over the issue accusing his governments quotpersistent preoccupation with political survival lack of vision and strategy lack of accountability and corruption and mismatch between demand and supplyquot as being collectively responsible for this preventable tragedy

Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on a whirlwind visit to Srinagar on Sunday also squarely put the blame on the state government quotWhen I was chief minister 200508 I earmarked 50 kannals 7 acres near Hajj House for a 350bed childrens hospital Two years ago as Union health minister I released Rs 65 crore for itquot said Azad quotConstruction of the hospital is a state subject and the government should have come up with the hospital by nowquot

Incidentally the state medical education ministry is headed by RS Chib a leader from the Congress which is the ruling National Conferences coalition partner in the state

Omar Abdullah on his part reacted by replacing the hospitals medical superintendent and ordering an enquiry He has also asked his health department to initiate the process of formulation of a Detailed Project Report DPR for the construction of a new 200bed paediatric hospital at Dewan Bagh in Srinagar

The problem however is much deeper Enquiry officer Dr Showkat Zargar who has been commissioned to prepare a report on the deaths has put the blame on poor hospital administration and bad sanitation The report based on extensive interviews with at least 30 doctors posted in the hospital has surprisingly ruled out the shortage of lifesupport equipment such as ventilators and missing infrastructure as a cause for the deaths Jammus paediatric hospital for example manages better with just two ventilators The report recommends administrative shortfalls be met to avoid similar tragedies in future

Vigilance enquiries into the nexus of senior doctors at GB Pant hospital with pharmaceutical companies and allegations that senior doctors depute junior doctors to run the hospital while they run private clinics are not uncommon Whats needed is better accountability and this is where the government can learn from the private sector The learning has to happen very quickly for lives are at stake here

Date : 23 May, 2012
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