On 11 August at a government hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP), 30 children passed away in a span of 48 hours bringing to light the sorry state of affairs at most of the government hospitals across the country. The tragic spate of deaths occurred at Baba Raghav Das Medical College. Rajeev Rautela, the District Magistrate, provided information of said deaths to the media but refrained from giving any reasons as to why so many children died in such a short span of time. He was quoted in the media as saying that 17 children passed away at the hospital’s neo-natal ward, five of them were suffering from acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) and eight children passed away at the general ward.
The spate of child deaths at Gorakhpur
Media later on revealed that a couple of kids died on the morning of 11 August. Ashutosh Tandon, State Minister for Technical and Medical Education, and Siddharth Nath Singh, State Health Minister, met with UP Chief Minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath following the deaths and they visited the hospital in question on the morning of 12 August itself. Singh has made it clear that no child died because of insufficient oxygen. He also told reporters that people found to be responsible for this incident will not be spared.
The rising death toll and political backlash
Already, 63 children have died at said hospital and this has led to severe political backlash aimed at the ruling party. As is usual in such cases, Congress, the main opposition, has asked why Narendra Modi is silent on this issue. Manish Tiwari, a spokesperson of Congress, has asked that the culprits in this case be meted out the harshest punishment possible. It has been alleged that the deaths at Baba Raghav Das Medical College have happened owing to paucity of oxygen.
What is being said?
Tiwari has stated that there are clearly two dimensions to the whole case. He has said that entities such as the hospital administration, the district administration, and the oxygen supplier are the ones with criminal culpability in this case. He has singled out the district administration specially in this case since, according to him, it is their responsibility to monitor the hospitals and their workings in their jurisdiction. The Congress spokesperson has also said that the chief minister is also morally responsible in this case. He has called for the ones with criminal culpability to be charged with what seems to be involuntary murder.
The first question that needs to be asked in this case is who is going to take ownership of these problems that are assuming critical proportions with every passing day. While we as a country are dreaming of being a superpower one day these basic issues are still haunting us and perhaps dragging us down as well. Things such as health are the basic right of every citizen and it is the duty of the government to provide it. Unfortunately, when it comes to social security benefits such as these our governments – for some reason or the other – have always been found to be inadequate and the Gorakhpur incident only highlights that.
A lot of private hospitals are opening these days and a lot more people are availing them. Now, who can blame them? In spite of their high fees these hospitals have the sort of infrastructure as well as overall professionalism that makes people think that their treatment and recovery would stand a better chance at these facilities. The government hospitals, on the other hand, represent everything that can and does go wrong in the health system of a third world country.
The question is what needs to be done in such a situation? The answer is very simple. The people who are working at these facilities need to come forward and take responsibility. They need to own their place of work and make sure that it can be the best possible one with the resources that come their way. They should not be taking the work and the benefits that come with it for granted. The governments can always make laws and ordinances but unfortunately in a huge country like India it is not always possible for all government officials and ministers to be always touring and checking if everything is working properly or not.
It is always easy to blame the administration for everything but it also needs to be understood in this context that the people working at the ground level perhaps need to be held accountable as well. The buck of blame should not always stop with the administrators. Yes, they are responsible as well but not the only ones. When every part of a machine works well the whole system runs smoothly and this is what is needed – cooperation and mutual respect at all levels.