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Protest after more baby deaths

Oct. 23: Five more children have died in the Burdwan Medical College Hospital over the last two days, taking the toll to 19 since Saturday.

Four-year-old Anish Khatun died in the hospital this morning, prompting parents and relatives of some of the victims and Congress activists to gherao the hospital head and ransack the clinic.

Anish’s parents alleged that no doctor came to attend to the child despite repeated appeals. Anish was brought to the hospital with serious respiratory problems from a remote village in Pakur on Saturday. Hospital officials have ordered a probe to establish whether any of the doctors on duty had been negligent.

Health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra reacted cautiously to the rise in baby deaths, saying the condition of the children were “precarious at the time of admission”. The minister had faced severe criticism from not only the Opposition Trinamul Congress, but also from partners of his ruling coalition, when he had said there was nothing abnormal in the death of 14 children within 48 hours at the B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital.

Mishra told reporters at Writers’ Buildings that the preliminary inquiry into the deaths in Burdwan did not mention any negligence on the part of doctors. “However, I am awaiting the final report from the director of health services on the matter,” he added.

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee had rushed to the hospital to probe the deaths, but is yet to submit his report. On his return, he has claimed that there was no dearth of doctors and infrastructure facilities in the Burdwan Medical College Hospital. “All those (children) admitted were referred by local private nursing homes and quacks. The patients were in the dying stage. I can vouch that nobody could have prevented their deaths,” Chatterjee said.

But a group of parents and relatives of the dead children did not think so. They gheraoed hospital superintendent Panchugopal Roy for four hours this morning, demanding stern action against doctors allegedly responsible for deaths due to negligence.

The hospital was thrown into tumult when a group of local Congress supporters, along with a section of hospital staff owing allegiance to Intuc, joined the agitation. Some of them tried to ransack Roy’s chamber, but timely intervention by the police saved the situation. The force dispersed the mob and rescued Roy. “The deaths exposed the government’s much-hyped slogan of better healthcare management,” said a local Intuc leader.

Later, he apportioned some of the blame on private nursing homes and health centres for referring cases of sick children to the district hospital at a time when little could be done to save their lives.

Secretary of the district unit of the Indian Medical Association Madhusudan Roy said most private nursing homes and government health centres were forced to refer patients with complicated ailments to the district hospital as they did not have the minimum facilities to tackle such cases. He felt an impartial inquiry should be initiated to fix responsibility for the deaths of so many children within a short time in the hospital.

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