The Kota tragedy should be a wake-up call
In December, 100 infants died at the government-run JK Lon Hospital in Kota, Rajasthan. A team of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights that visited the hospital to investigate the deaths found broken windows and gates, pigs roaming inside the campus and an acute shortage of staff. Data also shows 70% of the radiant warmers were not functional and bed-nurse ratio was 13:1 against the standard of 4:1; and there was an absence of oxygen pipeline in the special newborn care unit. An enquiry by the state government also found infrastructure challenges, but ruled out negligence as the cause of deaths of infants. While these challenges warrant an overhaul, the deaths were not a one-off episode. In the last six years, more than 1,000 children have died every year in the hospital.
The deaths point to a deeper crisis of the health care system. First, the primary and secondary segments need to have better resources and equipment, and more staff to ensure that the first response to critical cases is effective. Their inadequate response means more pressure on tertiary institutes such as the JK Lon Hospital. This Kota hospital is accessed by poor patients from not just Rajasthan but also Madhya Pradesh, putting the hospital’s stretched resources under further strain. Moreover, many infants come to the hospital in terminal condition, with bleak chances of survival because they failed to get adequate and timely care at the first two levels. Rajasthan and the Union government should use the tragedy in Kota to embark on more comprehensive reforms.