This is a freak, horrific tragedy of the kind that happens only rarely. On Wednesday, it happened twice, in the space of two hours, in two Indian cities.
Two prematurely born babies were roasted alive after electrical warming gadgets in which they had been kept burst into flames in government hospitals in Delhi and Ahmedabad. In both cases, electrical short circuits were probably to blame.
The machines — an infant warmer in Delhi and an incubator in Ahmedabad — are normally very safe. Several doctors that Hindustan Times spoke to in Delhi could not recall any such case previously. An incubator is a heated case in which a baby is placed; an infant warmer is like an open plate that is heated from above by an umbrella-like mechanism.
The Delhi accident happened at Bhagwan Mahawir Hospital in Pitampura, where an infant warmer burst into flames at around 2.30 am. The five-day-old baby died before her mother, sleeping in the next ward, could reach her. The woman alleged hospital staff had prevented her from rushing to the burning machine.
“As soon as I heard my baby crying, I ran towards her from my ward. I saw the machine was on fire. I cried for help, but instead of helping the baby, the nursing staff held me back. If they had let me go, my child would be alive today,” the woman, Kamlesh, said.
She and her husband, Prakash Kumar, ragpickers from Shakurpur, have filed a complaint with the Mongolpuri police, accusing the hospital administration of negligence. The police have filed a case, and Delhi Health Minister Yoganand Shastri has asked the hospital for a report on the incident within 36 hours.
The Ahmedabad tragedy happened at 4.15 am. An incubator containing a three-day-old infant caught fire at the municipal Shardaben Hospital.
Three other incubators in the same room also caught fire, but hospital staff removed the babies in them before they were seriously hurt.
The dead baby’s mother is in shock. She had had the child after a 10-year wait.
Hospital sources said that the incubator was more than a decade old but was functioning normally. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has ordered an inquiry into the fire, and sent the burnt-out machine for forensic examination.
The Narendra Modi government has announced a compensation of Rs 50,000 for the couple from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund, and the corporation has decided to waive all their medical bills.
The Delhi hospital too has announced an internal inquiry. "It was a very unfortunate accident. The machine was new and in good working condition. We are not sure how the fire started but we suspect a short circuit," said Dr Ashok Kumar Dang, Medical Superintendent.
Neonatalogists said infant warming machines are safe and ISO 9001 certified, though accidents can happen anytime, anywhere.
“I’ve never heard of something like this happening, and the cause of the fire should be investigated,” said a senior paediatrian at Safdarjang Hospital, who declined to be named.