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Infant life switched off

Dhanbad, Dec. 6: Zero-power Jharkhand suffered its first human casualty today when an underweight infant, less than a week old, died at Patliputra Medical College Hospital (PMCH) as the incubator, which needs a continuous 440 watts to function, failed to run.

Though the state-run Dhanbad hospital — facing blackout since 4pm yesterday — has four generators, its incubator was not connected to the emergency power sources, leading to the death of a six-day-old, grossly underweight at 750 grams, a little after 10am today.

Power unions, opposed to JSEB’s move to privatise distribution, had pulled the plug yesterday, plunging the state into darkness.

For Wasseypur resident and businessman Iqbal Khan and his wife Armana Khatoon, the fallout has been the loss of their daughter, christened Baby on her birthday.

“My wife had a normal delivery on November 30 but our daughter was very tiny. We brought her to PMCH paediatric ward on December 4. Doctors found her grossly underweight at 750 grams and recommended putting her into the incubator,” said Khan.

The father added that she had responded very well in the one day she was placed in the incubator, also called an open warmer. Doctors told him she would be released in a week, “hale and hearty”.

“Instead of which she is dead,” the Kamar Makdum Road resident said, blaming squarely the JSEB union strike and PMCH mismanagement for the tragedy.

An average Indian infant weighs between 2.5kg and 2.8kg at the time of his or her birth. Baby weighed a fraction. But placed in incubators, low-birth weight infants get respiratory support ranging from extra oxygen to continuous positive airway pressure or mechanical ventilation, and catch up with their peers.

Electrical shutdown in the hospital switched off this vital service. Short-sighted planners had designed the network in a way that it could only draw power from JSEB’s Tenughat grid but not from diesel generators of capacities 63KVA, 20KVA, 10KVA and 5KVA.

Baby’s uncle Mohammad Jafar said yesterday evening they had placed an urgent demand before PMCH superintendent Dr Arun Kumar to “somehow connect the incubator to any one generator and save the child’s life”.

Kumar had to call the police to pacify the relatives.

“I accept that some medical equipment here are not connected to the generators, including the incubator, which may have turned fatal for the severely underweight infant,” Kumar told The Telegraph. “We are shocked over what happened but helpless,” he added before going incommunicado.

Baby’s death is a damming indicator of how unequal the state-run hospitals are to facing unpredictable situations.

Fatality apart, there are other problems at the PMCH.

The four generators are being used sparingly as money for diesel is short. Together, they need around 150 litres of diesel an hour. The hospital superintendent is known to have written to Dhanbad DC Prashant Kumar and civil surgeon Shashi Bhushan Singh, requesting emergency funds to buy fuel.

The PMCH has around 15 inverters but they could not be charged. As a result, during this “indefinite strike”, the onus of power supply falls on the four gen-sets, each of which have to be cooled off after running at a stretch for six hours.


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