In an achingly unfortunate incident that that befell several families in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur district, more than 60 children are reported to have died in Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital due to encephalitis (a condition of shortage of oxygen which causes inflammation of the brain leading to death). The supply of oxygen was short due to non-payment of dues to the contractor. Definitely, this calls for serious attention to healthcare facilities and management in general across the nation; but before that could happen, as expected, the Opposition parties wasted no time in vehemently condemning the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in the state. Congress initiated the demand for sacking UP Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh. Led by Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, a delegation of Congress leaders inspected the hospital and concluded that the incident was caused due to the lapses of the State government, asserting that the State government did not pay heed to the warnings issued by the local administration about the crisis in oxygen supply.
Long way ahead for healthcare management
With this colossal mishap, there is bound to be some major mud slinging among the political class. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has expressed that this is an example of "gross criminal negligence". Both mainstream parties of Uttar Pradesh, BSP and Samajwadi Party (SP) on Saturday demanded a high-level inquiry into the incident. Akhilesh Yadav has reiterated that "the company supplying oxygen had informed the principal (of BRD Medical College Hospital) that it would stop the supply if payment was not made and the government must be aware that the deaths have been caused due to a shortage of oxygen". In an angry statement, Mayawati lashed out that "issues like tiranga (tricolour), vande mataram, madarsa, anti-romeo squads -- which divert the attention of the people -- are of more importance". Masood Ahmed, the state unit president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, said it was a "matter of grave concern" that the district administration and the hospital were "trying to hide their shortcomings" and demanded the resignation of state Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh. Former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar Tejashwi Yadav was not far behind while condemning the death of over 60 children in Gorakhpur's BRD Medical College's hospital, saying that it is nothing less than murder.
As many as 30 lives have been lost in a span of 48 hours due to alleged disruption in the supply of liquid oxygen in the hospital. A total of 63 deaths have occurred in six days. According to data procurred from the BRD hospital, in five days - from August 7 to August 11, a total of 60 deaths have occurred in the hospital. The procurred data also shows the number of oxygen cylinders sent for refilling each day, showing a clear shortage of liquid oxygen in the hospital. MoS Health Anupriya Patel, who arrived in Lucknow on Saturday evening, drove straight for a high-level stocktaking meeting on the tragedy. She also spoke to the media at the press conference and said that the guilty would not be spared and that the government would act "cruelly and with a firm hand" to punish callous officials. State Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh, however, denied that the shortage of oxygen or the disruption of the central oxygen plant at the BRD medical college had led to the deaths of children. He also attributed the deaths of children to some underweight, early delivery, sepsis, pneumonia and other infections. A few deaths, he added, happened due to encephalitis as well. According to IANS, Medical Education Minister Ashutosh Tandon said pending payments of the vendor supplying oxygen were cleared on August 5, and funds sent to the medical college.
As this incident is fast gaining political colour, a general perception among the opposition is that the Uttar Pardesh state establishment is, instead of looking into the matter, are trying to suppress it. Police force was deployed around the hospital to avoid any kind of untoward incident. It was only in April when the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh announced to go in for a major revamp of the healthcare system in the state. The state administration, taking cue from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's initiatives, drew a blueprint emphasising on maximum use of technology to strengthen its healthcare network, from basic primary health centres to multispeciality hospitals. State Cabinet Minister in charge of health Sidharth Nath Singh said the core focus of the initiatives by the Yogi government would be the most marginalised sections of the society - the poor who have so far not even been touched by the concept of state healthcare due to their deprivation and the shoddy policies of the previous governments. In a correspondence to Mail Today, the BJP dispensation claimed that it inherited a "completely broken system" from its predecessors, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which had deliberately allowed the system to die a slow death. Another area of push was told will be augmentation of capacity, that there is a need to induct more nurses and such specialised medical personnel such as lab technicians and para-medics, besides more doctors.
"We are looking at two ways to augment capacity. First, we have decided to augment via the organic way, which is to appoint more personnel through government appointments to departments. The second way we are considering is outsourcing it," Singh said. He said the BJP government was ready to leverage technology to take health services to the people. "We are going to introduce telemedicine soon. Another initiative will be to introduce medical mobile units, which are like full-fledged health camps that will move from place to place with doctors and medicines," he said. Proposing to come up with 170 such units BJP government in Uttar Pradesh has already regularised 3,700 doctors which was pending for over a decade, the minister said. "We are also going to establish seven AIIMS and 25 super-specialty hospitals across the state in future." Beneath the outbreak of blaming and counter-blaming, the significant matter that needs to be addressed is that healthcare is an indispensable part of good governance. The unfortunate death of scores of children in Gorakhpur will always be a grim reminder that negligence that leads to irreversible consequences is inexcusable and matters of such gravity must be anticipated and dealt with effectively and timely.