India probes if shortage of oxygen supplies killed 30 infants

NEW DELHI - Indian police are investigating whether 30 infants died for 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 in August in a public hospital in northern Uttar Pradesh, amid accusations that oxygen supplies ran out because of 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 of a total of 49 children died of perinatal asphyxia, police added in the complaint, seen by Reuters.

This condition is caused by a reduced level of oxygen in infants just before, during or after delivery, depriving them of the ability to breathe freely.

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

The district's chief medical superintendent, Dr Akhilesh Agarwal, denied there had been any lack of oxygen.

64 children die at India hospital due to oxygen shortage

  • Mohammad Zahid battled exhaustion to keep a manual pump pushing air into his five-year-old daughter
  • but slowly the life went out of Khushi, one of dozens of children who died at a Gorakhpur hospital that ran out of oxygen.
  • While a major controversy has erupted in India over more than 60 deaths at the Baba Raghav Das Hospital, Zahid told AFP in an interview of grief and anger that he did not believe the truth would ever come out.
  • Allegations have been made that the state-run hospital had not paid its bills.
  • At least 64 children, some newborns, died over a six-day period at the hospital in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state.
  • Indian media have linked more than 30 of the deaths to a lack of oxygen.
  • While the hospital superintendent has been suspended, authorities have insisted the lack of oxygen was not a cause of death.
  • The chief minister blamed the deaths on encephalitis – a mosquito-borne virus that every year ravages poorer, eastern Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state with more than 200 million people.
  • But students hurled eggs and tomatoes at the home of the Uttar Pradesh health minister.

The hospital saved 121 of the 145 infants admitted in critical condition following their birth elsewhere, he added. "The rest died since their conditions were critical," he told Reuters.

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 one 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 with a shortage of doctors and dilapidated infrastructure.

In recent years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has increased health spending and vowed to make healthcare more affordable.