In December, 146 infants lost their lives in the JK Lon Hospital in the Rajasthan city of Kota. The Rajasthan High Court sought a report from the government on Tuesday after a public interest litigation (PIL) was raised concerning the high number of deaths.
The sudden surge in infant deaths prompted an investigative committee -, comprising the additional principal of Sawai Mansingh Hospital Dr Amarjeet Mehta and paediatrician Dr Rambabu Sharma — to look into the incident. The report did not find any wrongdoing on the part of doctors but did find a plethora of issues likely to have triggered the crisis.
Among these factors were extreme cold weather coupled with many rooms having no glass in their windows; a severe shortage of doctors and specialists resulting in the hospital operating above its capacity; shortages of equipment; broken equipment; and even pigs being allowed to roam freely within the hospital, resulting in unsanitary conditions.
Subsequently the High Court has instructed that a number of measures be implemented to improve the condition of hospitals throughout the state. The issues flagged by the investigative committee could be addressed by these recommendations. Among their instructions were the computerising of district hospitals, a surprise inspection of any two hospitals of the state, reporting of all vacant posts and sanctioned posts in government hospitals.
Officials at the hospital have, however, argued that the death toll – the public outcry notwithstanding – falls within expected and acceptable norms. “We are the biggest hospital in western Rajasthan. We even get infants and other patients who are referred from AIIMS [the All India Institute of Medical Sciences], Jodhpur. 4,689 admissions of infants were done in the month of December alone, out of which 146 died. Therefore, the mortality rate is just three percent which comes under acceptable norms,” Dr SS Rathore, principal of the SN Medical College told ANI. “The number of deaths might seem high but one should also see that the number of admissions is quite high at our hospital. Also, there were different reasons behind the death of infants which have occurred in the hospital.”
However, given the deficiencies found by the investigative committee, this explanation from the medical college will do little to alleviate the public perception of negligence on the part of the hospital. A lack of available doctors, coupled with unsanitary conditions and broken equipment, paints the hospital in a bad light. Failing to acknowledge that improvements must be made to avoid such a situation from happening again could indeed lead to another spike in child mortality.