A week later, there has been no FIRs or suspensions; a probe is pending.

 

New Delhi: One week. 10 deaths. No FIRs, no suspensions. High-level probe pending—this is the status of the Bhandara infant deaths case. Seven days have passed, yet the administration has not even moved for suspension of staff. Over a week later, the high-level committee has sought more time. The CM’s assurances of strict action haven’t been followed up by an equally stringent action.

10 infants—between one day and two months old—lost their lives to a fire in the SNCU, a place where they were brought from far away villages, in the hope of recovery. It’s such an appalling, shocking and unacceptable incident exposing the truth of how government hospitals require hospitalisation first! On 9 January early morning, 10 new born babies were charred to death in Maharashtra state’s hospital’s Neo Natal ward— the maximum number of deaths was of baby girls. The concept of “Sick New Born Care Unit” was introduced in district hospitals in India with a view to decrease the neo natal mortality rate. The ward which was supposed to be equipped with facilities to curb such incidents, lacked the required essential facility and 24X7 vigil by ward boys, nurses and attendants, which amounts to sheer negligence and complete apathy. Despites such a massive tragedy, the government and authorities have failed to even register an FIR in the case, stern action is far-fetched. The families are living their days with no hope and a life filled with grief and sorrow, with the staff of the hospital who should be under the scanner, showing a callous attitude. Government hospitals supposed to treat masses lack the basic set up like fire safety equipment. The callousness of the authorities can be gauged from the fact that the conclusion of the investigation was expected in two days, yet more than 150 hours have passed, but no action has been taken yet; instead officials responsible for investigation are sitting on the probe ordered, with files piling up.

The Sunday Guardian went to villages several kilometers from the district hospital to speak to parents who lost their babies in the heart wrenching hospital tragedy. The parents are in complete shock, they are angry and grief-stricken. In shock, some of the parents showed their anger at the sheer administrative apathy.

Sarita Bawne, who is mother of 23-year-old Sukeshni Agre who lost her 12-day-old baby girl in the tragic incident, said: “On the 12th day, we celebrate the naming ceremony of our kid and see today, the kid is dead. Instead of celebrations for which we had bought cradle, clothes and shoes, we are mourning.”

Sukeshni Agre was not in state of mind to talk to The Sunday Guardian and thus this paper talked to her mother who had accompanied her in the same hospital when their baby was in. Sukeshni Agre and her husband Dharmpal Agre had travelled some 40km for their baby’s better health from USARRA village to that district hospital. They took this decision as the baby girl was under weight and they thought that going to the district hospital will make her healthy, fit and fine. “Is this what we get in return by trusting government hospitals? The least we expected was safety for our babies—that should ideally have been the first responsibility of the hospital,” said Dharmpal Agre. Weeping heavily, Sarita in her 40s and grandmother of the deceased baby, said, “Imagine what we have gone through, we were sure that those nurses and attendants will ensure safety of our kids. We though their priority will be those small babies. Who would have thought they will take so long to save them that they could not be saved anymore? I know what I felt when I saw the charred face of my granddaughter; her whole body was almost intact. I had bought everything for her, from cradle to dresses and shoes. Imagine how the small baby had suffocated to death from the heavy smoke entering her nose!”

While the maximum number of families of the kids complained about no fire extinguishers and no proper care taken by the sisters and nurses in the hospital, they also spoke about usage of harsh language by them. Vandana Sidam, 28, couldn’t stop her tears while sharing her ordeal of losing her baby girl. She said: “My elder daughter had named her Vaishnavi and today same the Vaishnavi is no more with us. What will happen with compensation, will Vaishnavi come back? “Chappal se maarna chaiye jo gunhegaar hai. It was on 7 January when I had gone to feed milk to my child and the next day, the incident took place. The hospital staff was reluctant and did not let us meet or see our child. There was no immediate action taken, either to take the children out or take some other step to save the children. The incident had taken place in the ICU and no one bothered to take the children out from there. I had visited the ICU twice, yet the staff did not inform me about the fire that had taken place. Earlier too, we have seen their lethargic attitude—while babies were crying in intensive care unit, nurses used to watch songs and movies. Today, I have complications that may hinder efforts to conceive again; people who are responsible should be punished.”

This unprecedented heart-wrenching incident has raised a lot of questions on the status quo prevailing in the country’s healthcare services for the common man. Will the death of the infants serve as a wake-up call for our ailing health system?