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article imageCuttack, India hospital has 61 infant deaths in two weeks

By Karen Graham     Sep 2, 2015 in World
Cuttack - Sixty-one infants have died in a children's hospital in India in the past two weeks, sparking protests and forcing the state government to launch an investigation.
The deaths at the Shishu Bhawan, or Children's Home, in Cuttack in the Indian state of Odisha, highlight the problems India faces with an underfunded health care system and a shortage of staff and clinics.
Reuters points out that the problems with health care in Odisha are only compounded by the abject poverty and lack of sanitation in many villages in the state. But the broader picture is even more distressing because Odisha is just one of India's 29 states, and these problems are seen all across the country.
Odisha's state health minister Atanu S. Nayak said on Wednesday that a criminal probe was underway into the conduct of three staff members, and another five workers have been suspended. The investigation gave rise to protests by opposition parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The protests were staged outside a number of hospitals in Odisha, with lots of flag waving and shouting of slogans against state government officials. "Infants have died but the chief minister has yet to visit the hospital," said Samir Mohanty, one of the BJP protesters, according to the Daily Mail.
The Times of India is saying a probe into the deaths, conducted by an expert committee headed by the director of medical education at the hospital, was started several days ago. Health Minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak said the government would act on the committee's recommendations.
Infant deaths nothing new in Odisha's pediatric hospital
The 416-bed hospital has eight ventilators and 21 critical care beds in its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and pediatric ICU (PICU).
"But at any given point of time, the number of critical children needing these facilities are manifold," said Arijit Mohapatra, a neonatologist and state secretary of Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP). Mohapatra visited the hospital on Saturday.
Children are referred to the Cuttack hospital from other facilities, as a last resort, and of the 11,250 children admitted to the hospital as of August 28, 2015, 965 died. This number reflects the more than 90 infant deaths a month recorded at this one hospital.
One statistic is very troubling and is seen in the rising number of deaths yearly. In 2014, the hospital admitted 18,271 children. Of them, 1,522 died. In 2013, of the 12,683 children admitted, 1,033 died.
The problem is with over-stretched facilities, and not neglect on the part of the staff says Niranjan Mohanty, a senior official at the hospital. While very few autopsies have been done, the primary cause of the deaths seems to be either septicemia or pneumonia, brought on by extremely low birth weight and prematurity.
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