She died, all of four days old, for want of Rs. 200 to keep her in a photo-therapy unit: another tiny teardrop on the face of a nation too often inured to callousness and suffering.
As details emerged about the death of the baby in Jalandhar’s civil hospital, the loss of a life unlived sparked waves of nausea and anger, even in an India witness recently to new lows in the plight of its kids, forced variously to drink urine, endure torture and sweep their classrooms.
Perhaps it was wrath at a crime against the most helpless of the helpless, perhaps empathy in the face of stone-heartedness, perhaps middle-class guilt at the wretchedness of being unable to afford such a paltry sum.
The facts are still emerging but father Sanjeev Kumar, is clear: staff at the hospital insisted on the money — enough to buy three kilos of dal — to keep his daughter in the potentially life-saving device after she contracted jaundice.
Photo-therapy involves keeping babies in coloured light to cure them of the disease, a relatively common condition among newborns.
When Kumar, who paints houses for a living, couldn’t pay up quickly, he says, they removed the baby from the photo-therapy, and she died.
The mother, Anita Kumari, 30, delivered her daughter on July 22. “On Wednesday, July 25, I fed her at about 7am. After this one of the nursing staff injected the baby at 8am. At that time, one of the nurses asked me to submit a fee of Rs. 200 for the photo-therapy unit. I kept on pleading with them to keep the child in the unit as my husband was arranging the money,” she said.
“But the staff preferred to keep the baby outside,” she said. “At about 4pm, I saw no movement from my baby and reported it to the doctors. The nurses started pressing the baby’s chest and immediately put her back in the photo-therapy unit.”
Things went rapidly downhill and in the evening, the nurses told her the baby had died.
That’s not all. “We were forcibly thrown out of the hospital by the staff, who called the guards when we objected to the negligence in treatment,” said Kumar.
An FIR hasn’t been lodged as the police said they were yet to get a formal complaint.
“The incident is not acceptable at all. No government hospital has the right to deny treatment on the ground that the patient’s family does not have money.
NCPCR has taken cognisance of the case. I am getting the facts and will then inquire into the matter,” Shanta
Sinha, chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), told HT.
Terming the death “unfortunate”, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said he’d asked health minister Madan Mohan Mittal to conduct an inquiry and take action against the erring staff. He also announced Rs. 1 lakh in compensation to the family.
The Punjab administration has constituted a committee headed by additional deputy commissioner Parneet Bhardwaj with a sub-divisional magistrate and two senior medical officers as members.
Bhardwaj said the inquiry, prima facie, clearly reflected “criminal negligence” by the staff on duty. He said the baby had been kept in the photo-therapy unit intermittently.
“The inquiry… shows there was too much stress on payment of the fee for keeping the baby in the photo-therapy unit,” said Bhardwaj.
“Also, tampering with the file of the child by the hospital staff on duty has come to light. Date and timing of death seem to have been changed by the staff. It seems that timing of death in the file earlier was written as 4pm, which was later changed to 7.30pm,” he said.
A doctor on duty maintained that the baby died because it had been fed in a wrong manner, and denied the child was kept out of the photo-therapy unit.
The hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr Iqbal Singh, said he didn’t know what exactly had happened. “I was out of the city attending a meeting. Also, the in-charge of the pediatric ward, Dr Jaswinder Kaur, was with me for the same meeting, so I can’t say with surety what might have happened that day.”
He said there was only one pediatrician in the hospital.
Singh said deliveries were conducted free of charge under the Janani Shishu Suraksha scheme, though patients had to bear the subsidised cost of photo-therapy. In special cases where the patient could not afford the fee, the hospital would give free treatment but only after clearance from the medical superintendent. “The nursing staff should have approached me,” he said.