The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hope of life, dole of death

One oxygen cylinder for three babies or more. Two hundred and fifty beds for 302 babies. Twenty-four medical officers, when the requirement is 50. Ninety-two nurses, when the need is for 150. Desperate mothers administering oxygen to their babies gasping for breath on filthy beds. And the stench of death…

The B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children, at 111, Narkeldanga Main Road, is where babies are brought with the hope of life — but death is what is doled out in alarming measure. Over the first two days of September, 14 babies — between one day and three years old — have died here.

“Two hundred babies have died in the past two months,” admits hospital superintendent Dr Anup Mandal. The reason is obvious. “We just do not have the infrastructure to cope with the number of patients, many of whom are refused admission in other hospitals. We lack medical staff, medicines, oxygen cylinders, and even basic equipment like an incubator or scan machines that a referral hospital for children must have,” he adds.

The hospital authorities have often petitioned Writers’ Buildings, but to little avail. A few months ago, a proposal for procuring ultrasound machines and incubators to set up a makeshift intensive care unit (ICU) was sent to the health department. Nothing has happened.

In fact, nothing seems to have changed in the 13 years that paediatrician Dr Asha Mukherjee has been attached to the hospital. “I remember treating extremely sick patients, most suffering from acute septicaemia, gastro-enteritis and other ailments, without any infrastructure in those days. Even today, the hospital does not have the minimum equipment or facilities required to treat children in a critical condition,” she says.

A trip down the slushy corridors of the shabby building with blackened walls, past filthy toilets, takes one into a horror Ward, numbered eight.

One big room crammed with three mothers and their babies on each dirty bed. One nurse lounges around, oblivious to the cries of the kids, the pleas of the parents. There is, in fact, very little she can do in a hospital with one nurse for at least 40 patients and no facilities worth the mention.

“My child is 13 days old, and the doctor says he will die,” weeps Mumtaz Bibi, staring at her son sleeping on his grandmother’s lap.

“They told me he will probably not survive, because he needs isolation and constant care. But they can’t provide that, so I should take him somewhere else. But where can I go' I don’t have any money,” she says, holding a tube of oxygen to the infant’s nose, hoping against hope.

But one bed lies strangely empty, stripped of its sheets. Basanti Biswas, clutching her son, explains: “A child died there this morning. He was brought in about 12 midnight and died at around six this morning. He was restless all night, and then started vomiting blood…”

Shuma Saha, another woman seeking a lease of life for her child, carries on: “We tried to get a doctor this morning, but there wasn’t one. The sister said she was busy. The watchmen downstairs refused to help. By the time the sister arrived with oxygen, it was too late. The child’s mother and grandmother watched him die.”

This tale of tragedy is repeated every day, every week, every month, every year. “I have been here for 10 years. What has happened over these two days is not exceptional. We have grown used to five or six babies dying every day. What can we do'” demanded Mandal.

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