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58 children dead in 10 days: what's going on in Cuttack's Sishu Bhawan?

Jyoti Prakash | Updated on: 2 September 2015, 2:22 IST

The deaths

  • 58 children have died in the last ten days at Sishu Bhawan hosptial in Cuttack
  • 2014: 18,271 children admitted. 1,522 died
  • 2013: 12,683 children admitted. 1,033 died
  • This translates to 110 deaths per month or 4 deaths per day

The reasons

  • Staff shortage: only 20 doctors against sanctioned strength of 48
  • Alarmingly low number of nurses and support staff
  • Many of the patients are critical infants from neighbouring states
  • A inquiry reveals that most infants who died were premature and had low weight

With over 58 deaths in last ten days, the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Post Graduate Institute of Paediatrics in Cuttack has become notorious.

Any visitor to the institute, popularly known as Sishu Bhawan, would realise that it is in a permanent state of chaos - overcrowded wards, wailing patients, bovines gambolling around and mediapersons jostling to capture VIP visitors on their cameras.

Where does the problem lie?

Billed as the biggest paediatrics hospital in eastern India, Sishu Bhawan attends to more than 400 patients on an average daily. The footfalls increased after its merger with the paediatrics unit of the SCB Medical College & Hospital, one of the premier health institutes in Odisha.

However, the hospital is reeling under an acute shortage of paramedics. There are only 20 doctors against the sanctioned strength of 48. The strength of the support staff in the hospital remains alarmingly low as compared to what has been sanctioned. The result is chaos and apathy.

According to experts, the deaths could also be because of the fact that many critical infants are referred to Sishu Bhawan from poorly equipped hospitals in Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

The number of such infants reaching the hospital is far beyond its capacity.

A preliminary inquiry report by the Cuttack district administration found that the infants who died were born prematurely and had low birth weight. The cause of death was either septicaemia or pneumonia.

Fall in footfall

However, hospital admission records show that only 86 patients were admitted on Saturday. Exasperated by the apathetic attitude of the hospital staff, panic-stricken families have been shifting their newborns to private nursing homes and hospitals.

"We brought our son in a serious condition. He needed to be admitted to the ICU urgently. The doctor, however, kept us waiting. We were told there were no beds available in the ICU," said a bereaved mother.

Further recounting her ordeal, she said, "The nurses were brusque with us every time we sought their attention or asked them for anything. They kept sending us to their recommended shop outside the hospital for the tests the next day. I lost my son due to their negligence".

Alarming figures

Records show that death figures at the hospital have been rising steadily over the years. This year, as on 28 August, the hospital admitted 11,250 children. 965 of them died.

Around 90 patients have died every month over the past three months.

In 2014, the hospital admitted 18,271 children. 1,522 of them died. In 2013, of the 12,683 children admitted, 1,033 died.

Infants who died were born prematurely and had low birth weight. Cause was either septicaemia or pneumonia

This translates into nearly 110 deaths per month or 4 deaths per day, and that is at Sishu Bhawan alone.

Odisha stands above the national average in terms of maternal mortality rate (MMR) as well as infant mortality rate (IMR). With infant mortality at 51 per 1,000 child births (third highest in the country) against the national average of 40, figures are highly alarming.

Steps being taken

Meanwhile, Odisha Health Minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak visited Sishu Bhawan for the second time and confirmed that the death toll till Sunday stood at 51. He said that the state government has taken several steps to provide better facilities in the hospital.

He informed that six more paediatric specialists have been engaged in the hospital since 27 August. This is besides the 89 doctors and 173 staff nurses for the 416-bed hospital.

On Saturday, Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan visited the hospital with a seven member team.

They held discussions with the Directorate of Medical Education and Training, Superintendent of Sishu Bhawan and Principal of SCB Medical College and Hospital.

First published: 2 September 2015, 2:03 IST