Updated: January 3, 2020 5:40:35 pm
The deaths of at least 100 infants in the month of December at JK Lon Hospital, Kota, has left the Rajasthan government at the receiving end of much criticism. Calls to sack the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot over negligence have intensified and the ruling government has hit back at the BJP.
While on Friday, a carpet was rolled out to welcome state health minister Raghu Sharma at the hospital, a central team of experts also visited the facility to take stock of the situation. A political firestorm has ensued with Home Minister Amit Shah asking Gehlot to focus his attention on the deaths rather than opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act brought in by the government. Meanwhile, grieving parents await justice and assistance.
Here’s what we know so far
Why 100 infants died in Kota hospital
When The Indian Express visited the hospital Thursday, families of patients pointed to the dismal facilities, and complained that their calls for help are not being heard. Outside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), an open dustbin contained remains of food and used surgical masks while oxygen cylinders lay scattered around. A long line of people, mostly parents and relatives of patients, waited for assistance.
At another ward, a fresh painting was being done, with workers confirming that the work started only after the deaths made the national headlines. At the emergency ward, two mothers shared one bed along with their infant children. Parents have even alleged they were asked to check whether the oxygen pipes were running.
Last week, Vaibhav Galriya, Secretary, Medical Education Department, visited the hospital and ruled out medical negligence as a reason. But he did acknowledge several other problems, including improper maintenance of equipment and shortage of oxygen lines.
What the government has said
Ten of the 100 deaths in a month happened in a span of 48 hours between December 23 and 24, prompting the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government to form a committee. The government, however, cleared the hospital of any lapses last month.
The J K Lon Hospital is the biggest such facility for children in the Kota division with hundreds of patients coming every day from adjacent districts such as Baran, Bundi and Jhalawar — even from neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.
According to the hospital’s Department of Paediatrics, since January 2019, at least 60 children have died every month. In some months, the number has been close to 100 — August (87), September (90), October (91), November (101) and December (100). The infants were admitted in the neonatal intensive care unit and paediatric intensive care unit. No post-mortems were conducted as the deaths were not reportedly suspicious.
The government’s defence is that this isn’t an unusual spike. That the 963 child deaths in 2019 at J K Lon government hospital are less than in the preceding years — 1,198 (2014), 1,260 (2015), 1,193 (2016), 1,027 (2017) and 1,005 (2018), an average of close to 100 deaths a month.
In its initial report on the deaths, dated December 27, the paediatrics department wrote that most of the equipment was functional and none of the patients died due to lack of resources. The report said that many of the children were admitted in critical condition after being referred from other hospitals.
Political firestorm takes the stage
The deaths have set off a political firestorm with the BJP slamming the Congress government that came to power in Rajasthan last year and Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan writing to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to flag the issue. Gehlot, in response, invited Vardhan to visit the hospital and “get himself apprised of the facts”. BSP supremo Mayawati has demanded that Gehlot be sacked and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has criticised Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for not visiting the mothers of the infants who died.
Addressing a rally in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur, Home Minister Amit Shah said, “Gehlot ji, instead of opposing this (Citizenship Amendment Act) first focus on the children who are dying in Kota everyday, show some concern, mothers are cursing you.”
A BJP parliamentary team, comprising of MPs Locket Chatterjee, Kanta Kardam and Jaskaur Meena, had visited the hospital last month and expressed concern over its infrastructure. The panel said two to three children were found on single beds and the hospital did not have enough nurses.
BJP MP Smriti Irani called out the state government on the matter. “It hints at the fact that even after continuous deaths of children, no attention was paid by Rajasthan govt towards it. The govt needs to answer whom would they penalise for this?” she asked.
Facing flak, CM Gehlot has urged the issue shouldn’t be politicised, adding that his government is sensitive to the deaths. On Friday, he told reporters: “If you visit a country or a state, you will witness some shortcomings in a hospital. The media and the people reserve the right to criticise that. That is when the government wakes up.”
Why comparisons have been made with Gorakhpur
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav on Friday alleged that over a thousand children have died in the last 12 months in Gorakhpur and asked the UP government as to who was responsible for it. “Yogi Adityanath is worried about Kota deaths. When will he be worried about the Gorakhpur deaths,” he asked.
Addressing the press, Yadav alleged that ailing children in Gorakhpur were suffering from encephalitis but were administered different medicines so that the truth did not come out that they were dying of encephalitis. “I will soon release a list of the dead children,” he said, asking “why wrong medicines were administered? Who is answerable?”
More than 60 children had died at BRD Medical College Hospital in Gorakhpur between August 7 and 11 in 2018. It was initially reported that the hospital had run out of oxygen supply, leading to the deaths. In October 2017, the police filed a chargesheet against seven people, including two doctors and the proprietor of the agency responsible for oxygen supply to the hospital, for an attempt to commit culpable homicide and criminal conspiracy.
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