Monday, August 2, 2021
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Gorakhpur tragedy calls for serious diagnosis

The recent death of over 70 children at the government-run BRD College and Hospital, Gorakhpur is tragic, shameful and outrageous. What is more bothersome is that such tragedies were neither first, nor will it be the last.  This time, the casualties have attracted greater attention because the state’s callousness appears to have touched a new low.

It is heart-breaking that children died on the inexcusable ground that “oxygen supply” was cut off due to non-payment of pending bills by the hospital to the supplier. Is it mere “unpaid bills” or a symptom of a deeper malaise? Are all the recent deaths due to “lack of oxygen?”

While the entire nation has been discussing the tragedy purportedly due to “oxygen supply shortage”, a political game took off within hours. The UP government suspended the Principal of the college and denied that a clog in oxygen supply caused all deaths. The deaths were attributed to acute encephalitis syndrome, infection and liver failure. Although lack of hygiene was cited as the primary cause, why no post-mortems were ordered?

The catastrophic incident has exposed the inefficiency of the government procurement system. The Principal and Head of Paediatrics, both are responsible for the lacuna. The decision of oxygen supply cannot be taken at the last minute and nothing can be arranged at the eleventh hour for a medical college/hospital which is riddled with large number of patients. Can’t the funds and grants under the control of the Principal and relocation thereof released on priority basis?  What needs to be probed is how the hospital kept mum over its outstanding payment of Rs.68 lakhs to the oxygen suppliers.

The act should be construed as culpable homicide, and the chief of the hospital must face the trial, not suspension, as it conveys an element of criminal negligence. The responsibility of ensuring that basic medical care is made available to the masses lies with the government; therefore, the government cannot be spared as well.

Poor leadership

When the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had visited the hospital just two days before the incident, the doctors could have complained him about the mismanagement of the administrative staff. Even oversight is negligence by omission. How can the doctors be given a clean chit if no less a person than the Chief Minister visits and they tell him everything is fine? Did the hospital authorities not take the CM’s visit or his words seriously? Probably, is it because the doctors have no incentive to be whistle blowers?

This has only added to the prevailing doubts over the CM’s ability to govern a large state like UP. A change isn’t expected immediately, but the overall situation in the state has certainly weakened the monk’s standing.

It is also learnt that an open swamp continues to breed mosquitoes and germs behind the hospital. When the government is propagating Modi’s “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” across the nation, the mismatch between rhetoric and reality stands exposed in the Gorakhpur adversity.

Healthcare has been low on the priorities of successive governments in Lucknow.  The poor public spending on healthcare at least partly explains why the country’s healthcare system is in the lurch.  According to World Bank data, “infant mortality rate in India in 2015 was 38.”  Though this figure is far better than the 165 in 1960, it is yet trailing when compared to countries such as Bangladesh (31), Indonesia (27) and Sri Lanka (8).

If India truly wishes to be a world leader in the coming decades, the underfunded public health system must undergo crucial changes necessary to promote a better standard of remedial healthcare.

Dear Mr. Yogiji, Is this the “freedom” for our children after 70 years of independence?  “Those” children should be living now, and their parents not grieving.  Your effective intervention can correct years of “medical” corruption.  Can you? Yes. Will you?

Else, the deaths of infants are rendered as cold statistics in government records. If poor countries like Cuba can give world-class healthcare, then there is something wrong with the Indian healthcare mindset that needs urgent treatment.

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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