Calcutta, Aug. 28: Five babies dead on August 25, four on August 26. The place: B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children. The year could easily have been 2002, but is 2003.
Between August 31 and September 17 last year, 22 babies died over three days at B.C. Roy. The outrage that followed threw up a single-point agenda: equip primary health centres so that babies don’t have to be delivered by the village midwife; so that newborns don’t get septicaemia and crowd B.C. Roy, pushing children with less-avoidable conditions out of Bengal’s only paediatric referral hospital.
Last year, The Telegraph focused on midwife-delivered four-week-old Ashraful’s journey from his village to B.C. Roy — bypassing a health centre less than a kilometre from home — to learn why multiple deaths were occurring frequently at the 175-bed hospital.
In the process, Ashraful, his family and the Jirangachha Primary Health Centre (as close to Eastern Metropolitan Bypass as Joka is to Esplanade) became the faces of Bengal that explained why B.C. Roy saw five deaths on August 31, nine on September 1 and eight on September 17 last year.
The journey was retraced this week, a year later, and revealed only one bright spot — Ashraful had survived his birth by midwife and ordeal by B.C. Roy.
Confronted by the large number of deaths last year, the administration had argued that if the Ashrafuls did not land at B.C. Roy from places like Gabtala (in South 24-Parganas) with septicaemia because of the unclean instruments used by midwives to sever them from their mothers, the tragedy would not have occurred. It acknowledged its task as treating the origin of the disease.
A year later, B.C. Roy continues to see five deaths a day from time to time, which may not be all that unusual. But Gabtala continues to see births by midwives who continue to use the same instruments.
Six weeks ago, a boy was born to Anwar and Chhale — in Ashraful’s Gabtala. Chhale was taken to the primary health centre less than 500 metres from home but had to come back as it was in the midst of another long bout of load-shedding.
The village midwife again came to the rescue, delivering the baby. Again, it bled and bled, but not long enough to die. There was “some pus” for “some days”, the baby’s aunt said. “He is okay now,” she added.
Last year, the Jirangachha health centre had only three instruments — a microscope and two others to measure blood pressure and haemoglobin count — to treat the 500-odd who turned up at the outpatients’ department on busy days. It has seen one addition this year; it can now test sputum (for tuberculosis).
But there is still no equipment to test a pregnant mother’s blood; if she bleeds during delivery, she goes on bleeding till family members take the responsibility of arranging for blood of the right group.
The centre still sees about one delivery in 10 days, though it serves a densely-populated area of more than a 100 square km.
Last year, the centre had two doctors; this year, it has one. If this person is on leave (as he was on Wednesday), the hospital goes without a doctor unless one from another centre about 15 km away comes as replacement.
Last year, the phone was working at Jirangachha. This year, it is out of order for many days and, according to an official, will not see any repair for “many more days”.
“Do you really wonder why anyone with a serious ailment, needing blood transfusion, does not come here'” the official asked. “I, too, will look towards Calcutta if my daughter needs care,” he added.
And where else to take a child but B.C. Roy'