Steps to check infant deaths in West Bengal prove too little

42 infants have died at Kolkata super speciality hospital; most were referred and came in critical condition

By Sayantan Bera
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015


West Bengal continues to be in news for infant deaths. At least 42 children have died in the past six days at Kolkata’s premier B C Roy Children Memorial Hospital. Most of the children were referred to the government facility from the suburbs and adjoining districts in critical condition. With 220 beds, the hospital is the largest referral facility in the eastern region.

This is not the first time the hospital has been in news for infant deaths. In 2011, 18 infants died in the hospital within a span of 48 hours. Together with Malda district hospital—where nearly 350 infants died in spurts in the past three years —the major referral facilities in West Bengal have repeatedly hit the headlines for infant deaths.

Damning health infrastructure report

After repeated infant deaths the health department had set up 35 sick and neo-natal care units across the state. That it didn’t help check the deaths points to a poor health infrastructure at the district and village level. Against the requirement of 2,148 primary healthcare centres (PHCs) in the state, only 909 were in place according to National Rural Health Mission figures till March 2011; as many as 736 of these 909 PHCs were served by a single doctor. Each PHC catered to a whopping 64,442 people in rural Bengal compared to the all India average is 34,876 persons per PHC.

Many among the 42 children who died in BC Roy Memorial hospital were below one. Several of the children reported acute respiratory distress, sepsis and were of low birth weight, between 700 gm to a kilo.

“The deaths were not due to negligence or any infection in the hospital but due to referral of terminally sick children,” said Tridib Banerjee, chairperson of the state task force on child health. “On an average five children die at the hospital everyday out of 70 infants admitted. With a sudden spurt in admission, the mortality rate also went up. The survival rate of admitted children is over 90 per cent,” he added.

With little health care facilities at the district and village levels, many children continue to face the risk of death as they often reach referral hospitals in very critical condition.


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