Srinagar Hospital in a Mess Callous Doctors, Negligent Staff
India has made tremendous advancement in the area of healthcare for the past few years. However, it is equally true that health infrastructure in our country is woefully inadequate. Therefore, it is not surprising that most of the health parameters in India are below the desired level. The heart-rending deaths of about 400 babies at Srinagar’s only children hospital, GB Pant Hospital, are deplorable and highlight the abysmal conditions that prevail in most of the hospitals across the country.
The numbers are certainly disgraceful. What is the worst-ever record for infant mortality perhaps in the country, the state government in a shocking admission on recently said that 358 infants had died since January this year. The hospital recorded 10 deaths of newborns in the last 24 hours, reportedly the highest ever in the institute with the latest deaths, the infant fatalities at the government run facility have shot up to 41 in the past 15 days. Meanwhile, the authorities continue to be in denial mode while infant deaths increase by the day. According to the hospital documents, in the month of January out of 2315 admissions, 68 children including neonates had lost their lives. In February out of 2517 admissions, 66 deaths were reported. Then in March, 2705 admissions and 105 deaths were reported. In April, out of 3021 admissions in the hospital 85 children had died. In May so far, 34 deaths out of 1229 admissions were reported. In total, around 400 deaths have taken place so far.
While the very magnitude of such figures is benumbing, what is more shocking is the attitude of our thick-skinned politicians who claim to have no involvement in the incident. State Minister for medical education RS Chib has said that doctors should not be blamed without proof until actual investigation is over. “Some of the children have died of encephalitis where the normal mortality rate is 98 per cent”, he is reported to have said. This seems to imply that nobody is to be held responsible. What appears as a glaring irony is that minutes after the Minister left, another infant died at the hospital. Public outcry over the spurt in cases of infant deaths forced the government to order an enquiry into mounting allegations of medical negligence. The enquiry will be conducted by Director SKIMS, Dr Showkat Zargar. The one man enquiry committee into the matter has been given a week to submit its report. The obvious purpose is to buy time in the hope that public anger would subside by then.
The traumatic death of children is not an isolated incident that shows how mismanaged government hospitals in the state are. The media has exposed their shortcomings and irregularities off and on. But the alarming increase in infant fatalities presents a gory picture of the shambles the valley’s lone children hospital’s healthcare system is in. Clearly, both hospital administration and health department have ignored the issue of medical facilities in the hospital which is proving to be a primary cause of deaths. Since 2005 there has been no improvement in hospital infrastructure. The doctors say they are unable to cope with the huge overload due to shortage of trained staff and medicine. There are only three ventilators catering to around 1700 patients on an average at the GB Pant Hospital. So three patients receiving treatment from one ventilator is a common sight. It is therefore not surprising that asphyxiation has been the cause of almost 98 per cent deaths reported at the hospital. Many of the premature babies usually suffer from asphyxia when born. This means that they need artificial resperation for survival. Besides, a common disease prevalent among the babies called Meconium also necessiates the use of artificial breathing support. But it seems the authorities have not bothered to look into the issue. The doctors say that they have raised the issue of ventilators several times before the medical superintendent but to no avail. Meanwhile, deaths due to lack of equipment continue to soar. The hospital also suffers from inadequate manpower and shortage of medicine. As one of the main referral hospitals for children including infants, facilities have not been upgraded to cater to the huge influx of ailing children.
Compounding the issue is the poor budgetary allocations reserved by the government. Even when the state government is spending crores over tourism marketing and beautification drives, it is turning a blind eye to the people’s welfare in a holistic fashion. The awful truth is that Srinagar’s only paediatric hospital runs on an annual budget of Rs 13 crore of which Rs 9 crore is spent on the staff salaries and the remaining 4 crore on drugs and equipment. It is therefore shameful that the state spending on health is so low that it has been difficult to maintain the existing creaky infrastructure, leave alone build on it. Sadly enough, patient care has become a casuality and sheer neglect is only one of the reasons for the unnecessary deaths of children.
Increase in infant deaths at the GB Pant Hospital and the alleged medical negligience have evoked widespread concern from parties cutting across ideological lines. While Mirwaiz Omar Farooq termed the deaths gross negligience, Syed Geelani sees “conspiracy of genocide” behind the deaths of infants at the hospital. Many others have condemned the unfortunate situation demanding a thorough probe.
The mounting deaths have sparked protests in the valley. Dozens of people staged a demonstration recently outside the hospital raising slogans against the administration for its alleged failure to provide adequate healthcare to the people.
When one tries to understand what any of the commonly used terms like progress economic growth and development mean to an average person, it is clear that it is being able to provide a better life for one’s children. But collectively, as a nation, we seem to have turned our face away from millions of children who continue to die for want of proper healthcare. Unfortunately, we have a very bad record of child and infant care in India. About one million children die within first 28 days of life, that’s a quarter of such deaths worldwide. The two major causes of infant deaths are respiratory and gastro-intestinal diseases. And these ailments require proper medical attention. With the government hospitals in shambels and private care being expensive, a good section of the population is thus deprived of proper healthcare.
There have been many cases of infant deaths in hospitals due to a variety of reasons. For instance, a few years back five infants died in an accidental fire in a government hospital in Patiala and 11 babies died in Lucknow due to shortage of oxygen supply in their incubators. But one factor that has remained constant is the negligence of hospital authorities and staff. Doctors at government hospitals tend to avoid inconvenient duty hours which encourages staff to be lax about their jobs. At the same time, government hospitals are overcrowded as the demand for healthcare outstrips available facilities. Also, not everybody can efford private hospitals. There is therefore no room for lame excuses to hide the non-performance of our health sectors. More needs to be done to prevent unnecessary deaths of children in the country. It’s for the government to take note of the ghastly incident and start working on a war footing. Indeed, health deserves priority over all else. It’s time we got our act together and approached the problem with fresh perspectives. Only then will our children not die for sheer want of medical facilities.
By Sunita Vakil