Amid the horror provoked by the deaths of 100 children in the month of December at the J K Lon Government Hospital in Kota, Rajasthan, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has sought to shift the blame on to his predecessor, Vasundhara Raje, insisting that the issue must not be politicised. But CM Gehlot has been in office for nearly a year and cannot avoid responsibility. In a sense, it is high time the issue is, in fact, politicised. Public health must be pushed to the top of the political agenda and citizens must hold political parties accountable for the state of healthcare in the country.
The hospital authorities have claimed that the high rate of mortality is because J K Lon, being the only public referral hospital for children in Kota division, receives a large number of critical cases from a vast area. But that is also good reason for the hospital authorities to have been alert to the evidently deteriorating conditions at the hospital. While in a report to the Kota Government Medical College, the Paediatrics Department of the hospital had claimed that most of the equipment is functional and none of the patients died due to lack of resources, the secretary, Medical Education Department, Rajasthan, has admitted to several problems, including improper maintenance of equipment and shortage of oxygen lines. The hospital has also reported a 30 per cent shortage of nursing staff. Anecdotal evidence has pointed to the callousness and insensitivity of the hospital staff to the concerns of the patients. Of course, this is a story likely to be heard in the wards of most public hospitals in the country. Unfortunately, until the number of deaths crosses a critical threshold, which varies from state to state, the poor state of infrastructure, or the absence of professionalism fail to attract the attention of the authorities. Lon came into the spotlight — like the Gorakhpur Medical College where scores of children died in 2017 — only after the media reported that 963 children had died in 2019. Government data on Lon reveals that on an average, 1,000 deaths have been reported annually since 2014.
Every single death in a hospital ought to be seen as a failure that needs to be addressed urgently. Governments need to make public health a priority. Better supervisory systems to fix accountability also need to be in place. The Kota tragedy must be a wake-up call.
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