The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BC Roy curse back

Calcutta, Nov. 4: Booksellers’ need for business can stir the state government into a frenzy of action every year, but serial tragedies at Bengal’s premier children’s hospital cannot.

The death of 22 babies in less than 72 hours at the B.C. Roy Hospital has swivelled the spotlight on how little has changed at the institute since it counted 18 bodies in three days in August-September 2002.

The government today reacted with the same torrent of concern as four years ago, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee rushing to the hospital with his health minister.

“An inquiry has been ordered into the deaths. Details will be revealed on Monday,” Surjya Kanta Mishra told reporters.

As before, the authorities explained that B.C. Roy, being a referral hospital, usually receives the most difficult cases at a fairly late stage and therefore records a rather high mortality rate.

What they were less eager to admit was that the apex institute lacks what every children’s hospital should have: sophisticated ventilators, pulse and heart rate monitors, equipment to measure blood gas (the percentage of oxygen and carbon dioxide in blood) and specially trained nurses.

After the spate of deaths in 2002 sparked an outcry, the government had promised a revamp of the institute. But although Rs 1.8 crore was sanctioned two years ago, the new 110-bed building that would have housed the crucial neonatal and paediatric intensive care units is yet to be commissioned.

Cricketer Sourav Ganguly had helped raise Rs 72 lakh in 2003 towards the new units, but the money lay unused till recently.

The nine deaths on Thursday, followed by eight yesterday and five today are high even by the hospital’s own admission of an average daily toll of three to four.

“These deaths are a coincidence. A large number of children in serious condition were referred to our hospital at a late stage,” said medical superintendent Mrinal Kanti Chatterjee. “Such grossly underweight newborns rarely survive. All of them had septicaemia and extremely low body temperature.”

Doctors said 12 of the dead were prematurely born and weighed only between 650 grams and 1.5 kilograms. The rest had advanced meningitis and encephalitis.

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