As 60 kids die in five days, UP govt. suspends Principal of Gorakhpur's BRD Medical College

Children did not die to disruption of oxygen supply: Minister
The Uttar Pradesh government today suspended the Principal of the Baba Raghavdas Medical College in Gorakhpur, where 60 children have died over the past five days, including 30 in just the past 48 hours, amidst a mounting public outrage and a growing clamour for heads to roll after fixation of responsibility for the tragedy.
While the government insisted that the deaths of the children, many of whom were suffering from Japanese encephalitis or Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), died to medical reasons, there were reports which suggested that at least some of the deaths were caused by a sudden disruption of supply of liquid oxygen to the hospital because it had defaulted on payments to the supplier of the life-saving gas.
According to official sources, as many as nine children died on August 7; 12  on August 8; nine on August 9; 23 on August 10 and seven on August 11.
The tragedy has come as a major embarrassment for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, because Gorakhpur is his home town and was his Parliamentary constituency for long years. 
Further, he  had paid a visit to the hospital just two days ago and also gone to the paediatric ward, but officials now claim that he was not aware of the huge number of deaths that had occurred in the previous days.
State Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh and Medical Education Minister Ashutosh Tandon announced the decision to suspend the Principal with immediate effect for negligence of the college after visiting the hospital today.
The government has also ordered an inquiry by the Chief Secretary to probe the causes of the tragedy. "The strictest action will be taken against whoever is found guilty of negligence. No one will be spared," the Ministers said.
In Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is monitoring the situation in Gorakhpur, an official press release said.
“PM is constantly monitoring the situation in Gorakhpur. He is in constant touch with authorities from the Central and UP Governments," it said.
Mr. Modi has directed Minister of State for Health Anupriya Patel and the Union Health Secretary to take stock of the situation in Gorakhpur, the release added.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed deep shock at the death of the children, even as her party and other Opposition parties attacked the state government for not acting in time to prevent the tragedy though there were enough warnings.
Ms. Gandhi said she was pained beyond words by this "humongous tragedy" and that her heart went out to the families of "the innocent children who fell prey to gross intelligence and incorrigible misconduct on the part of the authorities".
She urged the Uttar Pradesh government to take immediate cognisance of the "crime and culprits" and said that the persons responsible for this neglect must be brought to book.
She also called upon the Pradesh Congress and the party's workers to provide relief to the families of the victims.
Mr. Singh said the deaths of the children, including many infants, could not be attributed to the disruption in the supply of gas. He said inquiries made by him and Mr. Tandon today showed that the the level of liquid oxygen was normal until 7.30 pm on August 10. When the levels fell, the hospital authorities switched to the use of gas cylinders as per normal practice, he said.
According to him, the cylinders ran out by 11.30 pm and fresh supplies of cylinders came in by 1.30 am on August 11, that is about two hours later. During this period, other stand-by measures were taken, he said.
Mr. Singh said seven children had died during that day, when the level of gas was normal, and no deaths were reported during the period when there was a disruption. He said the next death of a child was reported only on August 11 morning.
However, it is a fact that the hospital ran up arrears of Rs. 68 lakhs to the contractor, despite many reminders from him. He had sent another letter on July 30 and warned that he would have no alternative but to stop supply of liquid oxygen, which might endanger the lives of patients. The contractor had also marked a copy of his letter to the district magistrate.
Mr. Singh and Mr. Tandon said the government did act on the letter and sanctioned payment to the contractor on August 5 and that the amount was released on August 7. The contractor, however, said the amount was not received by him till August 11.
The government is now trying to find out if there had been any delay in releasing the payment and if there had been any lapse in this regard.
Mr. Singh also said that, against an average of 18 deaths of children in the hospital during 2014, 2015 and 2016, the average this month was less than five.
He also said that the BRD Medical College was a referral facility and patients were referred to it when they were already in a very serious condition and, therefore, the numbers of deaths was not entirely abnormal.
Most of the deaths of children at the hospital occurred in the encephalitis and neo-natal wards, sources said.
Senior Congress leaders such as former Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Raj Babbar and R P N Singh, visited the hospital today and met patients and doctors. 
Mr. Azad said it was a heart-wrenching tragedy and caused by the carelessness of the state government. He demanded the resignation of the State Health Minister and Medical Education Minister and said the Chief Minister must apologise to the people of the state.
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, both former Chief Ministers, also held the state government responsible for the deaths and called for the strictest action against those guilty of negligence.


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