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Tragic coincidence at BC Roy

Calcutta, March 12: Seven babies died in four hours since last night at B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children, shifting attention back on the state’s apex paediatric hospital where a similarly unusual number of deaths in 2002 had left the “do-it-now” government shamefaced.

This time, however, the hospital does not appear to be culpable to that extent. According to a hospital report, one of the babies was born premature, in the 26th week of pregnancy, and was grossly underweight at just over 700 grams. Another child was born without one lung, and the only lung present was in a rudimentary stage.

“You can judge by the nature of deaths that today’s seven deaths are just an unfortunate coincidence of events,” director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said. Institute of Child Health director Apurba Ghosh agreed. “I will not say that it was impossible to save these babies,” Ghosh said.

“But in Indian circumstances, it is extremely difficult to retrieve the situation in such cases.”

“For instance, to save a 700-gram baby in the United Kingdom, you would need £2,000 a day (approximately Rs 150,000). That kind of expense is unthinkable by Indian standards,” he explained.

But the unusual number of deaths — the average is a little more than three a day — sent health department bosses scurrying for cover and exposed the government to allegations that the state’s only referral hospital for children had changed little since August-September 2002.

In the Assembly, the Opposition raised a ruckus and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was hard put to defend the government. “Something happened at B.C. Roy last night but the situation normalised thereafter,” he answered cryptically. “I have asked the health minister to inquire into what happened.”

Health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, whose “such things are normal” response in 2002 had forced Bhattacharjee to visit the hospital to save the situation, merely said he had asked for a report.

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