Since 1 January, there have been more than 144 encephalitis-related deaths at Baba Raghav Das Medical College, according to media reports. But the issue gained prominence only after the death of more than two dozen children at the hospital came to light on 11 August.
The Uttar Pradesh government has been scrambling to contain the fallout ever since, even as the death toll rose to 71 on Tuesday.
According to a Firstpost report, more than 30 children were reportedly admitted to BRD Medical College in the past week. Superintendent of BRD Dr RS Shukla said that the doctors are keeping an eye on 284 children.
As the Congress and BJP traded barbs over the loss of life, the picture that has emerged is that of a failing public healthcare system across the country and medical colleges, including BRD, which are reeling under severe budget cuts and a shortage of staff.
Questions are being raised about the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh slashing funds to medical colleges.
According to a report in The Times of India, the state slashed funding to medical colleges by as much as 50 percent. While 14 medical colleges and their teaching hospitals were allocated Rs 2,344 crore in 2016-2017, these colleges were allotted only Rs 1,148 crore for 2017-18, according to the report.
BRD Medical College was given Rs 15.9 crore in 2016-17. However, in 2017-18, its funds were cut by more than half: to Rs 7.8 crore. Its funds for machines and equipment were gutted by 75 percent: From Rs 3 crore to Rs 75 lakh, according to The Times of India report.
According to a Hindustan Times report, the college was given only Rs 5.32 crore for medicine for the 955 beds, 150 of which have ventilators for emergency care. Experts say that works out to Rs 152.62 per bed. However, professor Devendra Gupta of the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS) ventilator unit told Hindustan Times that the college spends around Rs 5,000 to 8,000 on a patient who needs emergency care per day and Rs 1,000 for a normal patient, so the government must consider increasing the budget.
A slow-moving tragedy
According to its website, BRD Medical College was established in 1969 and named for freedom fighter and Sarvodaya leader Baba Raghav Das. The establishment of the college improved the availability of healthcare in the backward area.
However, according to a report in India Today, Gorakhpur, in eastern Uttar Pradesh, remains one of the country's most backward areas and BRD Medical College is the only facility within 300 square kilometres with the ability to treat infectious diseases such as encephalitis.
The hospitals services patients from Terai region of Nepal, Gonda, Basti and eastern districts of Bihar, where sanitation and cleanliness have been major issues. In the Swachh Bharat Survey 2017, Gonda was declared as the dirtiest district in India, according to the India Today report.
Dr Kafil Khan, former head of the BRD Medical College Pediatrics Department, says the staff are under immense pressure. The institute services nearly two crore people a year, Khan claims.
According to this Firstpost piece, since 1978, the hospital has seen an average of 200 deaths per bed, making Gorakhpur highly endemic to encephalitis.
Uttar Pradesh health minister Siddhartha Nath Singh says that on average, 18 deaths were reported per day from BRD Medical College in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
According to a report in the Hindustan Times, more than 3,000 children have died at the government-run hospital since 2012.
'Working round the clock'
Dr Bhupendra Sharma, new head of the paediatrics department, tells Firstpost that BRD Medical College has around 80 doctors, most of whom are residents who have been working round-the-clock for days.
Sharma says 30 resident doctors from the diploma of child health courses have been roped in from other hospitals. Hospital staff also indicated that employees in the Encephalitis ward have not been paid for months, according to the report.
A young doctor, speaking with the The Hindu on the condition of anonymity, says the maximum number of patients arrive from Bihar on the late evening train. "Every year, from July to October, the number of encephalitis patients goes up. Last year the number of such patients was 427.”
"You can see yourself whether any bed is vacant. In fact, in the last 48 hours, we have not gone home for rest. Here the load on doctors is much higher than any other government hospital in the country,” the doctor tells The Hindu.
With inputs from agencies
Published Date: Aug 17, 2017 13:58 PM | Updated Date: Aug 17, 2017 13:58 PM