The death toll in the hospital has spiked over a span of five days. At least, 60 children have died, with media citing the lack of oxygen supplies as the reason for the fatalities.
Reports by the BRD Medical College showed that 34 babies died at the neo-natal intensive care unit, while 12 died because of encephalitis. The rest died of other unspecified causes.
Parents of at least 35 victims said that the oxygen supply to the children's ward ran out on the night the fatalities hit its peak.
Mritunjaya Singh, whose seven-month-old son survived the ordeal, expressed, "That's the time when the death of the children peaked."
Meanwhile, the uncle of an 11-year-old patient had not been as fortunate as Mritunjaya. Recalling the scene leading to the girl’s death, the uncle expressed, "We didn't know what was happening at the time. The staff just told us to keep pressing [the artificial bags] after every count until three. We kept doing that for some time."
Parmatma Gautam, whose one-month-old nephew Roshan died in the tragedy, claimed the hospital and authorities were trying to cover up their problem of “unpaid bills”.
"We saw our baby struggling to breathe and we couldn't do anything," recalled Mr Gautam.
Hospital and state officials dismissed oxygen shortage as cause of tragedy
According to local media reports, a private supplier had withdrawn its equipment over outstanding hospital bills, and some of the death could be attributed to the oxygen disruption.
District official Anil Kumar did not deny the payment issue; but said the deaths could have been caused by "natural" causes as many patients were admitted in a "serious" condition.
The region, one the poorest in India, records hundreds of deaths of children due to diseases, including encephalitis, every year. Outbreaks of encephalitis are rampant every year in India, claiming lives especially during the monsoon season.
The hospital’s chief medical superintendent Dr R.S. Shukla dismissed the allegation that the deaths were caused by the oxygen shortage.
District Magistrate Rajiv Rautela believed that the children in the Uttar Pradesh state had died of ‘natural causes’, denying that oxygen shortage was the cause.
Supporting Rautela’s view, Kafeel Khan – a hospital doctor – said the cause of death “could not be linked with the lack of oxygen.”
State Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh also rejected the alleged cause was due to lack of oxygen, mentioning that the average daily death toll for the month of August at the hospital was between 19 and 22 in the last three years. It was not clear if this had specific reference to cases among children.
"There was no shortage of oxygen in the hospital. For two hours, there was shortage of emergency cylinders, during which manual resuscitation procedure was carried out," he remarked.
Investigations have been carried out by the Uttar Pradesh's government and a team of federal health ministry specialists has been sent to the hospital to investigate the cause.
Prashant Trivedi, the state's top health official, admitted there has been a problem in the pipeline which supplied oxygen.
In a statement released by the hospital, it was mentioned that there had been a "drop in pressure in the supply of liquid oxygen" on Thursday – but added cylinders were procured from various other suppliers. It did not specify whether that had resulted in any deaths.
Fatalities sparked outrage among opposition leaders
Opposition leaders have been criticised for capitalising on the situation to blame trying to achieve their political agenda by pointing at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of “neglect and indifference.”
Relaying his take on the matter, via a tweet, opposition Congress Party's Rahul Gandhi expressed that he was "deeply pained. My thoughts are with the families of the victims. BJP government is responsible (and) should punish the negligent who caused this tragedy."
"The current government is responsible for the deaths of children in Gorakhpur due to the lack of oxygen. Strict action should be taken," tweeted former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.
India’s public health funding, taking up one percent of its GDP, has been among the lowest in the world. Along with this are the teething problems of shortage of doctors and dilapidated infrastructure.
In recent years, there has been a move by Modi's government to allocate a bigger budget to health, with promises of a more affordable and accessible healthcare system. MIMS
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