The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Infant deaths spotlight on Malda

Malda, Sept. 8: After Calcutta and Siliguri, it is the turn of the Malda Sadar Hospital to throw up chilling statistics of child deaths in the state.

Fifty-one infants died at the hospital in August. This month, 11 children have succumbed till yesterday.

A string of deaths at the B.C. Roy Memorial Children’s Hospital in Calcutta has brought into focus the sorry state of healthcare in Bengal. The North Bengal Medical College and Hospital logs around 50 child deaths every month.

Even as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today told the CPM that administrative lapses and negligence were responsible for the Calcutta deaths, the Malda hospital authorities insisted there was “nothing unusual about the toll”.

Though the hospital records an average of two infant deaths daily, hospital superintendent Manik Lal Das refused to read to “too much into the routine events”. “Neither the doctors nor hospital staff are to be blamed for the infants’ deaths,” he said.

Brushing aside allegations of “gross negligence and dereliction of duty of the hospital authorities”, the superintendent passed the buck to the parents of the ailing children. “We can do precious little to save the lives of the little ones as they are admitted here at the dying stages on most occasions,” he said.

Das scoffed at the charge levelled by the parents that the hospital has turned into a veritable baby-doom institution. “The healthcare facilities have improved by leaps and bounds in recent times,” he said.

Unfazed by the growing criticism, he listed the hospital’s “impressive facilities”. “The paediatric wing has three doctors. Unlike other hospitals, no patient is turned away despite the fact that the children’s ward boasts of only 34 beds. Of these, only 15 are paying beds,” he said.

“We have to work under overwhelming odds. For instance, at any given time, the ward is teeming with at least 90-odd children,” the superintendent added.

Records suggest that 766 infants were admitted to the hospital in August, of whom 51 died. Similarly, 753 children were admitted in July and 49 died. Besides the rising toll, 14 pregnant women have also died at the hospital in August.

The district health department has reportedly expressed grave concern after going through the “alarming records”.

Asked about measures the hospital is taking to reduce the infant toll, Das said: “Space constraint has been the major problem. Despite our best efforts, we cannot increase the seat capacity of the children’s ward.”

Chief medical officer of health Ashok Banerjee said: “I know the latest figures. Presently, we are paying more attention to the children’s ward. The lopsided patient-bed ratio has been the primary cause for the malady.”

Gastroenteritis strike

DumDuma, Srirampur, and Tajpur villages in Habibpur block of Malda are reeling under a gastroenteritis outbreak that has left four dead and 200 more in need of immediate medical attention.

“A team has been sent to Habibpur to take stock of the situation,” said Banerjee.

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