An Indian hospital chief has been suspended after at least 64 children died because the oxygen supply reportedly was cut off over unpaid bills.
The state government in Uttar Pradesh, in north India, suspended Rajeev Misra, head of the state-run Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital, late on Saturday and ordered an urgent investigation.
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The children – including 34 infants – died partly because a private supplier cut the supply of oxygen because their bills had gone unpaid.
Heartbreaking photos have emerged showing distraught parents grieving over their dead babies and children. Others in the town held vigils outside the hospital, and staged protests calling for justice.
Hospital officials deny that a lack of oxygen caused the deaths, however, claiming that alternative supplies were found. Instead they blame many of the deaths on encephalitis and unspecified issues relating to the delivery of the infants.
On Sunday J.P. Nadda, India’s health minister, and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath visited the hospital in Gorakhpur – which is 800km east of New Delhi.
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‘We will know [after the investigation] whether it was because of an oxygen shortage or due to a lack of proper treatment,’ Adityanath told reporters.
‘Those found guilty will not be spared.’
Nadda said a team of doctors from New Delhi was now working with the local authorities and the federal government to send more assistance. He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also monitoring the situation.
On Saturday, the suspended hospital chief accused state officials of ignoring his requests for money.
‘I wrote at least three letters,’ Misra told reporters, adding that he had also raised the issue in video conference discussions.
Adityanath however claimed that the issue of unpaid bills wasn’t brought to his attention, and that all requests for funds were met properly.
Meanwhile opposition politicians have accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – which holds power in the country, and also in the state – of allowing the tragedy to happen.
‘This government is a murderer,’ Raj Babbar, head of the opposition Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, said.
India’s expenditure on public health is about 1% of GDP – among the world’s lowest.
In recent years, Modi’s govenrment has increased health spending and vowed to make healthcare more affordable.