SRINAGAR, KASHMIR, INDIA – Months after Kashmir’s Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital hogged headlines after more than 500 babies died within the first half of 2012, Dilshada Jan’s firstborn daughter was added to its death toll.
Jan, 30, says she was jubilant as her delivery date approached during October 2012. She wanted to give birth to her first baby in a government-run hospital in her hometown, Pattan, 15 miles west of Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir state’s summer capital.
She says she did not want to go to Srinagar’s Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital, a government-run pediatric hospital, because she had read news articles and heard her community talk about the hospital’s high infant mortality rate. A government report on the deaths cited medical negligence, infrastructural inadequacies and asphyxiation.
“All of my relatives and in-laws asked me that we should shift to Srinagar for delivery, as all facilities are available there,” Jan says. “But I was adamant and didn’t listen to them.”
Jan gave birth to a girl in Pattan, but the newborn suffered asphyxia during birth and within hours developed cardiac complications and a severe blood infection, Jan’s family says. The doctors said the baby needed more blood and referred Jan to Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital.
Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital is the only pediatric referral hospital in the state, so there was no other option than to take her baby there.
“When we admitted our newly born baby in the hospital, we were surprised to see that our neonate had to share the same ventilator, which was already held by critical neonate with a problem in head enlarging,” says Jan’s father, Ghulam Rasool Khan.
Before long, Jan’s fear came true.
“Our infant was in immediate need of fresh blood,” Khan says. “But the hospital couldn’t provide that, due to which our child died.”
Khan says Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital doctors and paramedics told them the infant had died because she had already been in critical condition upon admission.
“When we hand over our children to doctors, we repose a trust on them,” Khan says. “The officials at the hospital should realize that people pin their hopes on them. So the staff members present in the hospital need to be polite rather than being ignorant and uncooperative.”
After the baby’s death, doctors quickly took away her hospital file, Khan says.
“It was so strange to see that soon after our baby died, the hospital authorities immediately took our record file,” Khan says, amid sobs. “We were not even allowed to mourn the death [of] our baby.”
The staff shepherded the family out a side exit, insisting that the main entrance was closed, Khan continues.
“We were not allowed to assemble around the wards, and our route of discharging was also different,” he says. “We failed to understand that – why they didn’t allow us to leave the hospital through the main entry gate.”
The state government and Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital authorities say the infant mortality rate at the hospital has declined thanks to action following public uproar about more than 800 infant deaths there annually. The hospital superintendent cites new codes, policies, equipment, trainings and construction in response to government investigations and recommendations. Parents and former and current employees acknowledge some improvement but scoff that most changes are cosmetic and the infant death rate remains high.
More than 3,800 infants died in Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital from 2008 to August 2012, Ravinder Singh Chib informed the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, the lower house of the state legislature, during October 2012, when he served as medical education minister. During the first eight months of 2012, infant deaths reached 636, which is on par with figures he presented from the previous years.