The Sardar Vallabhbhai Post-Graduate Institute of Paediatrics in Cuttack, which is in the news over a spate of infant deaths, has always had a high mortality rate, records show.
The childcare facility, better known as Sishu Bhavan, hit the headlines after 61 infants died in the last 13 days. But the mortality rate of 9% for the month of August at the hospital was only marginally higher than 8% for the same month last year. For the whole of 2014-15, some 6.22% out of the 17,899 patients admitted in the hospital died.
Sishu Bhawan superintendent Niranjan Mohanty says the death rate at the hospital was the same as other top paediatric facilities in the country. “Most of the children brought in here are in a very critical condition, having less chance of survival at the last moment. A sizable number die within 24 hours of admission; 75% of the deaths are of newborn babies,” Mohanty said.
Prenatal causes, respiratory illness, septicemia, malaria and other infectious disease are mainly responsible for the large number of infants’ death, he said.
Apart from Odisha, critical patients from ill-equipped hospitals in bordering districts of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal are also referred to Sishu Bhawan that has 416 beds and 36 intensive care units. Some 500 infants are referred to the hospital every day.
But doctors say they are unable to cope with the rush and it is not uncommon for infants to die while waiting to be admitted. More than 90% of the deaths are of infants referred to Sishu Bhawan from far off places.
Stung by the public uproar over the deaths, the Odisha government has suspended some nurses and technicians and allotted an additional Rs 10 crores for improving infrastructure at the childcare fcaility.
But experts say it is only a knee-jerk reaction and the government should instead improve health facilities in rural areas to ease the pressure on Sishu Bhavan.
Arabinda Mohanty, east zone president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP), said the deaths could be minimised to a great extent if critical care is improved at the district level as well. “Initial treatment at the grassroots and safe transportation so that the infants do not get infection during their long travel are a must for chances of survival,” he said.
Odisha health minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak said another big problem was doctors at primary hospitals and private nursing homes referring even one-day-old infants to the Sishu Bhawan.
“We are taking steps to reduce the load on Sishu Bhawan by strengthening paediatric facilities in the periphery including three medical colleges and all 30 district headquarter hospitals. The government has already set up sick new born care units (SNCU) in 10 districts and will include other districts in a phased manner,” Nayak said.