Gorakhpur: Govt says children’s deaths not due to snag in oxygen supply

india Updated: Aug 13, 2017 10:35 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Gorakhpur/Lucknow/New Delhi
Uttar Pradesh,Gorakhpur,Gorakhpur hospital deaths

A scene at the encephalitis ward at BRD hospital in Gorakhpur on Saturday.(Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)

The Uttar Pradesh government suspended on Saturday the principal of a medical college where 23 infants died in 24 hours but denied that a snag in oxygen supply caused the deaths that shocked India and triggered a political blame game.

State health minister Siddharth Nath Singh said oxygen supply was disrupted at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur for two hours on Thursday night but ruled it out as the reason for the tragedy.

“We studied various aspects of the deaths… the deaths were due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), infection and liver failure,” Singh said.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath – who represented the eastern UP city for almost two decades in Parliament -- echoed Singh and also blamed a lack of cleanliness and hygiene. Later, he announced an investigation by the state chief secretary into the role of the hospital’s sole oxygen vendor who cut off supplies over dues.

Singh said piped oxygen reserves ran low at 7.30pm on Thursday, replenished by cylinders, and the hospital completely lost supply between 11.30pm and 1.30am on Friday.

“Only seven deaths were reported between 7.30 pm-10.05pm when there was short supply of oxygen.”

A child being treated at the hospital. (Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)

Six more children died at the hospital on Saturday, sources said. But Singh pointed out that 20-22 deaths a day was normal for a hospital where thousands poured in from far-flung areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar -- regions ravaged by the mosquito-borne Japanese Encephalitis that affects the brain.

But opposition parties were unimpressed, and pointed out that the hospital had defaulted on payments of Rs 68 lakhs to oxygen suppliers over several months. Even a warning by the oxygen pipeline operators on Thursday morning of low reserves was ignored. Sources said no post-mortem examinations were conducted before burying the dead children.

“The government is squarely responsible for the death of all the children,” said former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Congress Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati demanded a probe and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad – who visited the hospital on Saturday – demanded Singh and Adityanath resign.

Opposition parties also pointed out that Adityanath had visited the college – including the 100-bed encephalitis ward – on August 9 but the state government said he wasn’t aware of the payment problems.

Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) including Japanese Encephalitis (JE) is endemic in 15 states and Union Territories in India. JE usually starts with flu-like fever, headache, nausea and agitation. The illness progresses to infection of the brain, killing 30% of those infected and causing brain damage, including paralysis, in 30% of those who survive.
(Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; data for 2017 till August 6, 2017.)

In Gorakhpur, anger and dismay ran high as local residents and families of victims demanded an inquiry and alleged negligence at the hospital.

“How could the hospital administration be callous to our suffering when Adityanath represents this constituency?” asked Bhagwati Yadav whose seven-year-old daughter is battling for her life in the encephalitis ward.

Oxygen supply was restored to the hospital on Saturday night after the government partially paid its dues to a Lucknow-based company. The company, Pushpa Sales, had issued an ultimatum to hospital authorities on August 8, warning that supplies may be hampered if its dues were not cleared.

“Whosoever is found guilty in the tragic and painful incident will certainly face stringent action,” deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya told reporters.

The incident reverberated in Delhi as well. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was monitoring the situation in Gorakhpur and he was in touch with central and state government officials, the prime minister’s office tweeted

Minister of state (health) Anupriya Patel and secretary (health) CK Mishra, along with a team of doctors, are a part of the Union health ministry delegation that left for Gorakhpur on Saturday. Union health minister JP Nadda has sought a report from the state health department into the matter.

First Published: Aug 12, 2017 22:03 IST