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Thursday, Oct 24, 2019

Jharkhand child deaths: Rot deeper than meets the eye

Majority of the 170 children who died at the MGM Medical College Hospital, Jamshedpur in last four months were acutely malnourished and grossly underweight

india Updated: Sep 09, 2017 15:28 IST
B Vijay Murty
B Vijay Murty
Hindustan Times, Ranchi
Paediatric ward of Jamshedpur’s  MGM hospital where 170 children died in the past four months.
Paediatric ward of Jamshedpur’s MGM hospital where 170 children died in the past four months. (HT Photo )

Death of around 170 children, mostly infants, at Jharkhand’s prestigious MGM Medical College Hospital, Jamshedpur over the last four months points at a bigger health care crisis than the alleged medical negligence in the tragedy-struck hospital.

HT investigation has revealed miserable state of reproductive and child health programme in the state’s East Singhbhum district largely contributed to the tragedy.

Majority of the ill-fated children were acutely malnourished and grossly underweight with their mothers’ condition being equally worse.

Some of the children that were brought to the hospital and admitted to the newly constructed Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in critical conditions weighed between 600 grams and 800 grams.

This showed the central government sponsored programme launched in 1997 with an aim to reduce infant, child and maternal mortality rates failed to achieve the desired result in the district where the MGM hospital is located.

The average normal birth weight of a new born in India range between 2.5 kilograms and 5 kilograms.

In Jharkhand’s countryside, where child marriages are rampant and the girls become mothers prematurely, barely few children are born with an ideal weight. Grossly underweight since birth, these children carry very low immunity to fight diseases.

Though understandably the hospital may not have done its best to minimize the deaths of these underweight children brought to the hospital, the state’s health and social welfare departments too owe a convincing explanation for the poor implementation of various health and social welfare schemes in the rural heartlands.

Even 17 years after attaining statehood, after bifurcation from Bihar, Jharkhand has failed to improve various health and social welfare indicators.

The infant mortality rate in the state is 32 deaths per 1000 live births--Kerala has brought its IMR down to six at par with the US. Maternal mortality rate (MMR) is 208 deaths per lakh mothers, while malnutrition rate among children under five years is 42.1 %.

The doctor-patient ratio in Jharkhand too is quite alarming with one doctor for 19,785 patients as against the national average of one doctor for 1674 patients.

Ironically, East Singhbhum is one of the country’s thriving industrial district home to steel major Tata steel and automobile giant, Tata Motors besides their several subsidiary and ancillary units.

But the district’s rural population is grossly malnourished, illiterate and deprived of the basic healthcare facilities.

State’s welfare minister Louis Marandi didn’t find the figures alarming.

During a visit to Jamshedpur’s MGM hospital to probe the children’s deaths, the minister claimed the government has successfully addressed the hunger and malnutrition issues and that out of the 170 odd deaths, only one child was found to be malnourished.

Hospital superintendent Dr Bhartendu Bhushan, however, said that the hospital is “paying the price” for admitting children who are victims of a non-existent reproductive and child health delivery system in rural areas.

“Our hospital is often overcrowded while the beds are limited and staff crunch is perennial,” he added.

At NICU, he said, there are only four trolleys but at times they have to admit 24 children “as we cannot turn away any patient in need of medical aid.”

“Still in July, out of the 102 critically ill children admitted to the hospital, we could save 62,” the superintendent said.

The huge vacant posts are certainly a big worry. Against 121 posts of senior residents, the existing strength at the hospital is only 31. Similarly, of the 75 posts for medical officers, only nine vacancies are filled up.

Manoj Mishra, president of the Jharkhand Human Rights Committee (JHRC), who brought the death of children to light, is demanding a CBI probe into the tragedy.

“Let there be a fair probe to expose the failure of all the departments involved in the criminal negligence that took lives of 170 innocent kids,” he said.

First Published: Sep 09, 2017 15:28 IST

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