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70 babies die in Gorakhpur in first 5 days of November. UP health minister calls it 'sensationalism'

Atul Chandra | Updated on: 9 November 2017, 13:53 IST
A relative holds the body of a child while walking out of Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on 13 August 2017. At least 64 children have died over six days at a government hospital that suffered orom xygen shortages, officials said on 12 August. Authorities have launched an inquiry into the causes of the oxygen disruption but denied reports that it had caused the deaths. (SANJAY KANOJIA / AFP)

Infants continue to die at Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College in high numbers but, as a Congress spokesman put it – the “government seems unmoved giving the impression that more than a dozen deaths in a day is nothing to be concerned about”.

Between 1 and 4 November, 58 babies died at the hospital. The hospital made headlines in August when 60 children died in less than a week due to a shortage of oxygen supply. The government denied that there had been any disruption in the flow of oxygen, but arrested the oxygen supplier nonetheless.

Another 12 babies died on 5 November, pushing the month's toll to 70.

Of the 58 babies who died in the first four days of November, 32 were less than a month old and the remaining were just older than a month.

All these deaths were confirmed by the Head of the Community Medicine Department, Dr DK Srivastava.

Following an uproar over the high number of deaths in August, the Uttar Pradesh's Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh had said that seven deaths, on an average daily, in this hospital were normal.

“This is a major hospital in Gorakhpur, so obviously people from far-flung areas of eastern UP, Nepal and the primary health centres land up here on referrals. So the number of death is usually high,” Singh said.

The minister also said that the casualty is normally high in August.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took a few days before responding to the tragedy in his parliamentary constituency.

In view of the seriousness of the tragedy and the state government’s “callous” response, the Centre got into damage-control mode and sent a team to investigate the causes that led to the deaths.

After the investigations, the BRD Medical principal and his wife were also arrested for the lapses.

Rather than dealing with the actual problem, Siddharth Nath Singh described media reports on November deaths as “sensationalism”. The government had taken several steps after which this year’s casualty figures were far lower than the previous years, the minister explained.

According to the state health department’s data – until September 2017, 1,317 children had died in the government-run hospital due to acute encephalitis syndrome. In comparison,

– 5,850 children died in 2014

– 6,917 in 2015

– 6,121 in 2016

The average daily casualties worked out –

– 16 in 2014

– 19 in 2015

– 17 in 2016

This year, 418 and 433 children died at BRD Medical College in August and September respectively. These figures were lower than 586 and 601, reported during the corresponding period last year.

The health minister said that the government was implementing a coordinated strategy to check the menace of Japanese encephalitis (JE). These included strengthening the infrastructure like pediatric intensive care units in district hospitals in Gorakhpur and Basti divisions.

As pigs and dogs served as carriers of the JE virus, the government is making sure that special emphasis was being given to cleanliness, the minister said.

A new bacterial infection called Scrub typhus or bush typhus has added a new dimension to the existing problem of JE. The disease is caused by mites found in bushes and which stick to humans and animals passing through these bushes, Singh said, explaining why cleanliness in the region had become a necessity.

According to a report in Down To Earth, Scrub typhus also triggered brain inflammation like JE and could also be a possible mass killer of infants in the BRD Medical College.

However, the journal quoted George Varghese, a professor at Christian Medical College, Vellore, saying that “symptoms being reported in Gorakhpur do not point to scrub virus”.

First published: 9 November 2017, 13:53 IST