India probes if shortage of oxygen supplies killed 30 infants

NEW DELHI • Indian police are investigating whether 30 infants died from lack of oxygen in a northern state-run hospital, the second case within a month in which medical supply shortages have been blamed for the deaths of dozens of children.

An underfunded, poorly managed public health system is in the spotlight after more than 60 children died last month in a public hospital in northern Uttar Pradesh, amid accusations that oxygen supplies ran out due to unpaid bills.

Police launched an investigation on Sunday in the latest case after a government report blamed the chief medical officer and doctors at another institution in the northern state, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, for the deaths of 30 children.

The infants died of "perinatal asphyxia" at the newborn care unit of the hospital in the state's Farrukhabad district between July 21 and Aug 20, police said.

"The probe officer was told by mothers that the hospital did not insert oxygen pipes (into infants' windpipes) after birth, and proper medication was also not given," police said in the complaint, quoting the government report.

The investigation suggested that 30 out of a total of 49 children died of perinatal asphyxia, police added. This condition is caused by a reduced level of oxygen in infants just before, during or after delivery.

A district magistrate last Wednesday ordered the probe into the deaths of the infants, after media reports linked some deaths to oxygen shortages. He also ordered action against all the doctors involved.

The district's chief medical superintendent, Dr Akhilesh Agarwal, denied that there had been any lack of oxygen. The hospital saved 121 of the 145 infants admitted in critical condition following their birth elsewhere, he said. "The rest died since their conditions were critical," he added.

Nineteen more babies were born dead in the government hospital, and the six remaining, from the tally of 49 in the government report, died of unspecified causes, he added, without elaborating.

India spends about 1 per cent of its GDP on public health, among the lowest in the world. Successive governments have faced criticism for not reforming the overburdened public health system which is still plagued by a shortage of doctors and dilapidated infrastructure. In recent years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has raised health spending and vowed to make healthcare more affordable.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'India probes if shortage of oxygen supplies killed 30 infants'. Print Edition | Subscribe