The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Calcutta, Sept. 2: Children come to this hospital to die.

Nine children — from a day to three years old — died today at B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital, the only paediatric referral hospital in the state. In two days, 14 children have died there.

That is normal. Ask Suryakanta Mishra, the health minister who has been promising to clean up hospitals nearly every day since he took charge last year.

“There is nothing abnormal in the number of deaths that have taken place there in the last two days,” he said.

Too many children die here. Over 300 have died in the past six months. Last September, too, 22 died in two days. Nothing has changed in a year.

And the parents who can take their ailing children nowhere else know that, too: the inevitability of death and their helplessness. Isha Saha Poddar, with whom the chain of deaths began on Sunday at 12.30 am, was not the first one to die here. Nor will the “baby of Santa Ghosh”, a day old and yet to be named, be the last.

“My child is 13 days old, and the doctor says he will die,” said Mumtaz Bibi, clutching an oxygen tube running up to the baby’s nose.

A few hours after the last death at 5 pm, hospital authorities were not over with counting and identifying the dead. “My brain is not functioning,” an apologetic superintendent, Anup Mandal, said, as the state government ordered a probe and Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee threatened an agitation.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, too, admitted he was at a loss. “I looked for the secretary (health department) and director (of medical education) and could not get them,” he said. “I will not make any comment till I get the report from them.”

Minister of state for health Pratyush Mukherjee explained at Writers’ Buildings that the “periodic occurrence of multiple deaths in a day” was expected as most of the cases that came to the hospital were terminal.

All these “normal” deaths would have gone unnoticed had not the family of two-year-old Shuvam Dutta, who died early this morning, protested and accused the hospital authorities of “killing” him by not putting him on oxygen. Shuvam was admitted on August 18 — this was the fourth hospital he was brought to by his parents — with pus in the lungs and infection in the upper respiratory tract.

Families of other children joined the protest. Doctors and nurses ran out of the wards in panic and the ward-boys stopped working to protest against the “lack of infrastructure”.

Superintendent Mandal tried contacting director of medical education Chittaranjan Maiti who, by then, had left for Calcutta National Medical College. Finally, police were summoned and a deputy commissioner arrived to bring the crowd under control. It was only after this that joint director of medical education Basanta Khan visited the hospital.

Admissions were suspended around noon — the hospital already had 302 children against a capacity of 250 — and the harried superintendent could not give every dead a name and every death a cause. “I don’t know why the youngest (baby of Santa) died and I don’t know who was the oldest to die today,” he admitted.

But multiple deaths were not uncommon, he said, echoing the minister. “Eight children died in 24 hours a few months ago,” he added.

Most of those who died in the last two days were suffering from respiratory problems, gastro-enteritis, meningitis or septicaemia. Doctors said better infrastructure could have saved some of the babies.

The state government may be equipping its hospitals with modern instruments, but the only referral hospital for children does not have a neo-natal intensive care unit, an ultrasonography machine, a scanning machine, or even a ventilator.

The hospital had “some” oxygen cylinders, officials said. Their subordinates, however, admitted that they were too few for a 250-bed hospital. Relatives of the dead said most of the “few” cylinders were not working today.

Bhattacharjee and Mishra have been threatening to reform health services. How many children must die before they do it'

n See Metro

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