The Gorakhpur hospital tragedy is a national shame. The death of 63 children in the last five days, due to criminal negligence of the hospital authorities, is a grim reminder of the pathetic state of affairs in the state-run healthcare sector. The creaking infrastructure, inadequate funds, overburdened staff, corruption and bureaucratic delays are among the contributing factors. It’s a familiar story in a majority of the government-run hospitals across the country. The reports that the infants had died at BRD Medical College hospital due to disruption in the supply of oxygen have evoked shock and anger across the country. Though the Uttar Pradesh Government has refuted the reports, it admitted that the supply of oxygen had indeed fallen briefly in the evening of August 10 but none of the deaths had occurred during the period. The Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who had represented Gorakhpur in the Parliament in the past, attributed the deaths to the outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis, lack of cleanliness and personal hygiene. There was inordinate delay on the part of the government and hospital authorities in clearing the dues to the private company that supplied oxygen. They ignored frequent reminders and requests by the firm for payment of outstanding dues. It has now emerged that the hospital management ignored the warnings of falling levels of liquid oxygen in its plant from employees. After the tragedy came to light, the Government has suspended the principal Dr Rajeev Mishra for his irresponsible act and ordered a probe by the Chief Secretary into the circumstances that led to the tragedy.
The Gorakhpur tragedy was waiting to happen as BRD Medical College hospital, which caters to over 3.5 lakh outpatients and 40,000 inpatients every year, is overcrowded and suffers from poor infrastructure. Thousands of people pour into the hospital from far-flung areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the regions ravaged by the mosquito-borne Japanese Encephalitis that attacks the brain. Gorakhpur district presents a depressing scenario in terms of healthcare infrastructure; only 11 out of 68 primary health care centres function on a regular basis, there are only six first referral units and only one sick new-born care unit in the district of 45 lakh population. While a thorough inquiry must be conducted into the deaths of children and those responsible for criminal negligence must be punished, a deeper look is also needed into the problems plaguing the healthcare system and what needs to be done to correct the situation. The deaths of infants should not become cold statistics in government records. The corruption that has taken deep roots in the medical administration must be rooted out. With one of the worst indicators in the world, India’s healthcare sector needs urgent treatment.