2012 Infant Death Toll Passes 500 at Kashmir Hospital, Asphyxiation and Negligence Blamed
More than 500 babies have died so far this year at Kashmir’s main pediatric hospital. As parents recount watching their own children die, government reports indicate that lack of equipment, substandard medication, and gross negligence by doctors and staff are to blame. Parents and local citizens are demanding answers as the government investigates....
SRINAGAR, KASHMIR, INDIA – Mosquitoes, flying ants and houseflies buzz around inside Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital, a government hospital in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir.
Bloodstains dot the floor.
"The deaths are [the] equivalent of genocide."
- Sumeer Kaul, oncologist
Two babies share a single incubator, and three to four children share a twin-sized bed.
Parents helping out the overburdened staff cover their noses and mouths to block the pungent smell of phenyl, as a shabby cat makes rounds through the hospital rooms.
This is the only pediatric referral hospital where infants and children can obtain specialized health care in Kashmir. While thousands of patients still come from througout the region to seek care here, the facility is facing intense scrutiny.
More than 500 babies have died within its walls so far this year.
Farooq Ahmed, from the outskirts of Srinagar, says he is among the hundreds of unlucky families who lost their babies at the hospital this year.
Ahmed says he brought his 7-month-old son, Hudain, to the hospital last month. His friend, who is a doctor in the United States, had told him after hearing the baby’s symptoms that he was likely suffering from hepatic encephalopathy – a loss of brain function as a result of liver failure, which can lead to death if not treated promptly.
But when Ahmed tried to explain the potential diagnosis to a doctor here, he was met with resistance.
“I tried to explain this with a G.B. Pant doctor,” Ahmed says. “He said that I don’t need to dictate my son’s condition before him with arrogance.”
He says during his son’s four-day stay in the hospital, the baby received only glucose, not medication or a formal diagnosis.
“The most unfortunate thing is that my son was kept on ventilator without any proper checkup,” he says. “He was suffering, and nobody cared. I lost my son in cold blood.”
Ahmed says that when he tried to seek details about the cause of his son’s death from the hospital doctors, there were only medical interns available. He was told only that his son’s chances of mortality were high to begin with.
While the loss of Hudain has shattered him and his family, Ahmed is also haunted by the 13 other infants he watched die during his days at the hospital.
Doctors cite a lack of equipment, particularly ventilators, as the main reason for the death of hundreds of babies at the hospital. The media and government have also recognized staff absence and negligence. While some hospital staff members acknowledge this lack of care, others say they are overburdened at the only pediatric hospital in the state. The chief minister has announced plans to build another children’s hospital to alleviate the staff and facilities here.
At a press conference in May, Manoj Kumar Dwivedi, state secretary of health and medical education, confirmed that 480 babies had died in the hospital so far this year. Dwivedi has submitted a seven-page report to the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir.
But in the weeks since the press conference, that figure has already climbed to 512 dead infants, says a hospital official, who declined to be named for fear of being fired.
Dwivedi said that his report came in response to a public interest lawsuit filed by civil society activists. The lawsuit urged the High Court to direct the government to investigate the exceptionally high rate of infant deaths in the hospital and also to seek compensation for the victims’ families.