Three children have died due to a “mystery fever” at the Lala Lajpat Rai Hospital in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The deaths may reinforce common criticisms of healthcare in India. As have many child deaths in recent weeks, they may generate comparisons to the circumstances of the Gorakhpur tragedy.
The condition presented symptoms similar to the flu or pneumonia, with the children coughing and sneezing frequently. At the time of writing, three children have died from the illness. However, the hospital reports a further 56 children have been admitted to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with the same symptoms.
The hospital says that every possible measure was taken to treat the children. Their attempts to treat them were hindered, however, by the delayed arrival of the children to the hospital. This was claimed to have been due to the family first seeking treatment from “quack” doctors.
Quack doctors are a common phenomenon in India, particularly in rural areas where access to healthcare is limited. Health Issues India has reported on quack doctors in the past. They currently present a complex situation in rural healthcare. On one hand, they may be the only source of healthcare for miles around, and so heavily relied upon in smaller villages. However, quack doctors frequently have no formal medical training, and so could potentially cause more damage than help.
It has been suggested that up to a million individuals are practicing medicine in India without qualifications, or even formally being acknowledged as doctors. Some non-government organizations (NGOs) have suggested giving at least some level of training to these quacks as a way of plugging gaps in the healthcare system. However, as with the situation in Kanpur, the use of untrained individuals instead of proper healthcare providers can waste valuable time in saving a person’s life.
As of yet, the cause of the fevers is unknown, though around 280 patients have been examined at the outpatient department for similar symptoms. The lack of a diagnosis at this point – despite high numbers of patients – highlights another of India’s key healthcare issues: the understaffing, underfunding and consequent overburdening of healthcare facilities.
This understaffing was recently highlighted at an infectious disease conference in Nagpur. At the conference, it was revealed that for the whole of India, there were only fifty doctors specialised in investigating infectious disease. This presents a situation where some of these specialised doctors are forced to travel the country.
Swine flu has currently claimed the lives of eight individuals in Kanpur. This has presented fears that the mystery fever could also be due to swine flu. Currently no more information on the illness is publicly known. Doctors have advised any children suspected of presenting symptoms to avoid schools to prevent any further spread of the illness.