Even as the number of infants, who died at Ahmedabad Civil Hospital in the last few days has touched 25, including the death of nine kids in a single day, a probe panel appointed by the government has given a clean chit to the hospital, sparking off debates over the low birth weight of infants in the state, especially in the rural areas.
The death of nine infants on October 28 came in as a jolt for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the election season. Gujarat votes on December 9 and 14 to elect its 182 MLAs.
Congress was quick to react to the incident with the party demanding an apology from Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and compensation for the families, who lost their new borns.
If sources are to be believed, as many as 1029 infants have died at the Ahmedabad hospital, touted to be the largest civil hospital in Asia, from January to October this year. Several of these new borns were referred to Ahmedabad from far-flung places of the state.
A three-member government team that probed the nine deaths in a single day gave a clean chit to the hospital dismissing any negligence from their side. The probe team categorically observed that the extremely low birth weight deliveries continue to be a challenge in Gujarat in view of sub-optimal nutritional status of pregnant women.
It also mentioned that the referrals from peripheral centres have been higher these days since many of the doctors and hospitals in periphery, especially in private sector are not available or closed due to post Diwali holidays.
Talking to media, associate professor at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, Dr Bela Shah attributed the deaths to pre-mature deliveries and low birth weight. Some infants also had breathing difficulties and could not survive despite being put on ventilator.
The death figures are ironical considering that the state government has time and again boasted about its schemes for pregnant mothers and infants.
As per the figures of the National Family Health Survey – 4 for 2015-16, the infant and child mortality rate per 1,000 births in rural areas of Gujarat is 39 and in urban areas 27.
Mothers who have had full antenatal care is just 24 per cent in rural areas and 39.6 per cent in urban areas. Moreover, children who received a health check from a doctor/nurse, midwife or health personnel within two days of birth is only 15.8 per cent in rural areas and 15.7 per cent in urban areas. These are figures for the last birth in five years before the survey.
Questioned Jhanvi Andharia of ANANDI, an organisation working in Gujarat's remote areas for maternal health, “How has it happened if all your (government's) schemes are in place?” She also wondered whether these were the only cases or were just the tip of an ice-berg.
Demanding an apology from the chief minister, Congress national spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil said that the government should give Rs 10 lakh to each of the families who lost their infants.
Regardless of post Diwali vacation period or non-availability of doctors, the deaths also bring to light the issue of vacancies of doctors and para medical staff in government hospitals at every level, including taluka levels. It also raises question on the availability of basic facilities at the taluka levels.
According to Gohil, the CAG, in its reports of 2013 and 2015, had also mentioned that the neo-natal wards at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital required CCTV cameras. He claimed that till Monday, when he got video shooting of the neo-natal ICU wards done, the cameras were not put up. The CAG report had also mentioned about the air conditioners not working properly.
The Congress leader also alleged that in the last couple of years, the medical and para-medical staff of the civil hospital have not been sent for updating of their knowledge through continuous medical education.