Infant deaths in J&K: ill babies given pentavalent vaccine, says PUDR

Report of health experts deputed by civil society group says infants did not receive timely medical care when they developed serious reaction

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Tuesday 12 November 2013

imageA team of public health experts who probed the deaths of eight children in Jammu and Kashmir who were administered pentavalent vaccine has said the deaths were related to administrative negligence and inadequate medical facilities. Seven children in GB Pant hospital and one in SKIMS Medical College Bemina, both in Srinagar, died after they were administered the vaccine in September and October this year.

The team found that the children were suffering from acute illnesses and were administered the vaccine without determining their condition, said the report of the fact-finding committee. The committee visited families of victims before releasing preliminary findings. The final report is still awaited.

On October 11, the medical superintendent of GB Pant hospital, Muneer Masoodi, had blamed the vaccine for the children's deaths. Following outcry by civil society groups, the Central government set up a committee headed by N K Arora, additional professor in department of paediatrics, AIIMS, New Delhi. On October 14, Arora said his panel could not draw a causal link between the vaccine and the deaths. He said the deaths had occurred because of pneumonia, septicemia, meningitis and liver disorders. The committee is yet to submit its final report.

The independent committee of public health experts was put together by advocacy group People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) which examined the autopsy reports and illnesses among children post-immunisation. It looked for antecedent illnesses and enquired about adverse events as per the Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI) guidelines.

FIR skipped adverse effects on other infants

It was found that the FIR (first information report) by a doctor or health worker for reporting AEFI had been recorded only in the cases of death and not in cases of those infants who took ill but survived.

"In other words FIR was prepared after death of the child and not on admission," said the press release issued by PUDR. According to AEFI guidelines, every adverse effect after immunisation has to be recorded by a competent authority.

Most of the infants had received the vaccine in a dispensary or health centre near their home during the regular immunisation day (Wednesdays). A doctor was in attendance in most cases. However, some children developed serious reaction later in the day or the following day. They could not be taken to the nearby dispensary because of doctors' absence. Parents rushed them to the GB Pant Hospital in Srinagar, the tertiary level children’s hospital attached to the Government Medical College.

In at least one case, the team found, the travel took up to two hours. By the time the baby reached the hospital, she was declared “brought dead”. The team was told about at least nine deaths following immunisation and its adverse effects.

The team also visited GB Pant hospital, which has been in the news in Srinagar since 2012 because of large number of infant deaths. Inquiry reports into these deaths have pointed to the abysmal conditions in the hospital arising from lack of facilities, understaffing, overload because of non-functioning of the peripheral health facilities, and general mismanagement. The team witnessed the difficult circumstances in which some of the doctors are working in overburdened hospitals.

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