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Gorakhpur hospital deaths: It’s high time we valued human life

In a broader perspective, the Gorakhpur tragedy is symptomatic of the callousness with which public health care functions in the country.

mumbai Updated: Aug 18, 2017 01:26 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Gorakhpur,Mumbai,Uttar Pradesh
Nearly 80 children died in Gorakhpur owing to negligence.

The Gorakhpur tragedy was inevitably the subject of conversation and debate across the country. From a few I was privy to, the overriding conclusion seemed to be, `that world is some other country’s hell.’

This sense of detachment stems not so much from physical distance, rather psychological and emotional. In a way, this is expected given the size and diversity of the country. But therein also lies our failure at assimilation as a nation.

Urban India’s view of Uttar Pradesh (and Bihar too) is of some faraway dystopia. It is shaped by lack of knowledge about its people and reinforced by stereotyping: through popular cinema, and a media narrative that has got increasingly slanted in recent times. For most Indians elsewhere, UP (and Bihar) is full of bumpkins and bounders, goons and gangsters; where everyday life — like its politics — is ruled by various matrices of caste, community and religion.

Essentially, it is perceived as a dysfunctional state pulling the country down rather than one which needs to be uplifted by understanding the problems, concerns, safety and security of its people. Such a cock-eyed view ignores the human dimension, and imbues even a tragedy of the magnitude that hit BRD Medical College as a natural consequence rather than a colossal failure of the state administration.

Gorakhpur has long been identified as a backward area, particularly prone to Japanese encephalitis. While there is no magic wand the chief minister has to wish away the problem, it was nonetheless imperative for the local and state authorities to be watchful, if not battling the scourge on a war footing.

Worse, the horrific tragedy has sparked off a blame game in which lives lost and families destroyed have been reduced to statistics and the main issue sidelined — sadly even by mainstream media debating inane matters.

But cover-ups and excuses never wash for long. How much better if there was acceptance of failure, prompt and diligent investigation, accountability fixed and measures taken to prevent a repeat of such crisis?

In a broader perspective, the Gorakhpur tragedy is symptomatic of the callousness with which public health care functions in the country. And this is not restricted to backward areas alone as might be imagined.

State and municipal hospitals remain substantially below par even in metros. Obviously there is no direct comparison between Mumbai and places like Gorakhpur, but using standard of living as a parameter, the difference whittles down.

True J J Hospital, KEM, Nair — to name a few — provide high quality education, and accomplished doctors abound, as consultants if not staffers. Doctors are more up-to-date with new trends in medicine because the environment is competitive.

At the administrative level, however, problems persist because of lack of understanding and slothful bureaucracy (hubris too?) in improving healthcare. Two instances where authorities have been shamefully neglectful come immediately to mind.

In 2008, the newspaper where I was then working did a story of how 42 life-saving machines to assist patients of dengue and leptospirosis to breathe was lying unused in JJ Hospital

The ventilators had been bought from a Rs120-crore grant from the Centre. But under one pretext or the other (some alleged kickbacks), they didn’t get operational. Three years later, newspapers picked up the story again since the machines were still uninstalled!

I don’t know what the status of these machines today, but the time lag tells its own story. More recently, a trauma care centre built along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway has been lying idle for over two years for reasons that don’t address the urgency of its need. For the record, there have been 4634 accidents (1323 deaths) on the E-way between 2010 and 2016.

A report in the August 16 edition of this paper says that the trauma care centre is likely to start this October. Not a day too soon, but why the inordinate delay is a question that remains unanswered. Perhaps it has to do with the way we see human life in the country: Without much value.

First Published: Aug 18, 2017 01:26 IST