The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Calcutta echo in north Bengal baby doom

Siliguri, Sept. 5: The statistics is alarming enough to make the health authorities sit up and take notice. But North Bengal Medical College and Hospital hardly appears concerned about the deaths of 30 to 35 children that swell the premier institution’s log every month.

The hospital authorities shrug off the deaths as “nothing unusual”, much the same way health minister Suryakanta Mishra dismissed the infant deaths in Calcutta as “normal” till chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stepped in and tried to limit the political damage caused by his colleague’s insensitive remarks.

Hospital superintendent Subir Kumar Banerjee said the dead children had all been terminally ill. “It is the only referral hospital in north Bengal and all hospitals send the children in serious condition to us.”

Paediatric department head P.K. Chandra echoed his boss. “The figure is not unusual if you take into account the fact that we receive mostly terminal cases.”

The blanket of statistics smothers another unpalatable truth: north Bengal’s premier medical institution is grossly ill-equipped and under-staffed.

It does not have something as basic as a ventilator in the paediatric section, where children in critical condition are dumped on the cold cement floor for lack of space.

Hospital sources said nearly 60 children were admitted to the paediatric section everyday, but it did not have as many beds. So much for the hospital all six districts in the region look to for succour.

Doctors acknowledged that the children lying on the floor often had their diseases aggravated, especially those suffering from bronchial ailments. For children down with pneumonia, sleeping on a flimsy mattress spread over the floor could be fatal.

Hospital authorities said they could do little about it except throw their hands up in despair. “We have already sent a proposal to the government to set up a new building to house the paediatric department,” a hospital official said.

The hospital is still waiting for a response from the health department mandarins in Calcutta, now busy with a new directorate in Siliguri.

The children dying at the hospital are aged between six months and six years. Some younger and older children have also died of diseases like pneumonia, encephalitis and malaria.

The hospital has only one radiant warmer, similar to an incubator, and that too often breaks down. “We are planning to have one more,” Banerjee said.

Sounding helpless, a senior hospital official said: “How can we run things smoothly' We simply don’t have enough doctors.”

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