Gorakhpur tragedy highlights a grave reality: Hospital-acquired infections are a major epidemic in India

On Monday, three infants died in Raipur's Bhimrao Ambedkar Hospital after a hospital employee, who was allegedly drunk, accidentally switched off the oxygen supply for three hours. This incident comes just days after the Gorakhpur hospital tragedy, that led to the death of 105 children., it is somewhat unbelievable that no one asked how the children stopped dying on a daily basis (after the case came under media glare)? And for that matter, what steps were taken to ensure their safety?

What is somewhat unbelievable is that no one asked after Gorakhpur how the children stopped dying on a daily basis (after the case came under media glare)? And for that matter, what steps were taken to ensure their safety?

Obviously, some action was taken. And if their deaths could have been prevented, why weren't these steps taken earlier? Seems like a perfect setting for criminal charges.

 Gorakhpur tragedy highlights a grave reality: Hospital-acquired infections are a major epidemic in India

Representational image. Reuters

This underscores laxity on the part of hospitals which leads to graver consequences such as hospital acquired infections. Never has an acronym been more apt than HAI. Repeated twice, the acronym turns into a perfectly fitting lament.

HAI is now a backstop for the medical profession, foisted upon doctors by administrations in these facilities cutting financial corners. That the doctors per se have become a party to this syndrome is unfortunate but there is now a genial conspiracy on this score. It is almost spoken of with pride. 'Hospitals will give you an infection... take the patient home'. Taken to its foolish length, it is a nice, little cop out because the more they care about you the sooner they want you out of their toxic environment.

If hospitals are nests of infection, there are contributory causes that should be addressed and rectified. By virtue of the caprice of fate, I have been touring several high-profile hospitals in the capital these past three weeks. Everywhere the story is the same, so naming these medical facilities is an exercise in futility. Patients and doctors in plural accept that HAI is now a reality. The management pretends it is overrated and doesn't really factor it in.

When asked why it wasn't always like this, most practitioners of medicine point to overcrowding. Whether it is fiscal greed or poor planning of appointments, hospital corridors and the mezzanines are like railway stations. There is almost no sanitation effort and the elevators, crammed with the sick and their family and their wheezing and sneezing, are seldom disinfected.

Add to this the indifferent often casual attitude of the cleaning staff and it is no surprise that the spread of disease is swift. A look at AIIMS and the snaking lines in front of it are enough to know that medical science is trapped by sheer numbers.

In the hours spent watching, none of the rows of chairs in the waiting rooms were sanitised. Budgets for sanitising public spaces in hospitals are chokingly small and very low priority. The cleaners themselves are scarcely epitomes of cleanliness and in this mess is added the army of PR executives and junior executives in uniform, whose basic aim seems to be to jump their friends and acquaintances in the queue and generally be of little help. The five-star hospitals are very chary about discussing the negative on the subject because it goes against the general acceptance of their clarion call, that infection is a by-product of hospitalisation, however bizarre this paradox is.

At the five institutions I visited, I witness a cavalier indifference to the sanctity of the Operating Theatre – with visitors trotting in and out and influence being the key to flouting the visitation rules.

The public toilets in every one of these hospitals were unpleasant experiences and mosquitoes were commonplace. National pastimes of hawking and spitting were rife. Doctors were not the least bit worried about shaking hands with strangers, even when they were on duty. A nurse took off her second glove with her bare hand and then went to tend to a fresh patient. A sure way to pass on anything.

Since waiting is a prerequisite to visiting a hospital, the risk of nosocomial infection as it is officially termed is high. You can find yourself in the not so congenial company of patients TB and other respiratory complications, malaria, dengue, swine flu and high fevers of indeterminate nature.

The administrations refuse to share their density infection data. Like how many patients caught infections in proportion to patient days in the hospital. By the same token, how many visitors went home and got sick, tracing their illness to the the hospital exposure.

That we need to clean up these edifices goes without saying. Contaminated equipment, affected linen (one of the major contributors) and bacterial and viral droplets in the air are the three leading offenders. The United States places the annual nosocomial figures at 1.7 million. We would probably be ten times that, if not more. The death rate from this is two percent and that is intolerable.

Updated Date: Aug 21, 2017 15:10:37 IST