Killing Fields

Updated: Jul 31 2004, 05:31am hrs
In a telling commentary on the dismal state of health services in the country, 34 infants died in a single week and 142 in just two months in a premier public hospital in the Capital. What took their lives was not any dreadful epidemic, but preventible and curable diseases, like pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis etc. Senior doctors of the hospital blame the deaths on non-availability of essential drugs and IV fluids.

Was the hospital short of funds Hardly. News reports suggest that funds to the tune of Rs 8.37 crore were returned by hospital authorities to the government last year! Why wasnt this money used to purchase essentials More to the point, the hospital was critically short of even basic facilities like drinking water. While one will have to wait for the official report into the incident, once again it seems to be a case of poor delivery systems. Money was available but when it came to the crunch, the hospital was found wanting. It is possible, of course, that most of the infants brought to the hospital were already in a critical condition. But that is no justification.

Both the Economic Survey and the CMP have called for larger spending on public health. But as the Safdarjung Hospital incident shows, it is not lack of money but poor delivery of services that is often responsible for the abysmal state of health services in India. Electoral promises and policy statements are meaningless unless delivery mechanisms are improved. This must be combined with efforts to see that healthcare in our villages and smaller towns is beefed up so that patients dont come to the city hospitals when all hope is lost. Community involvement in healthcare is an essential prerequisite for improved delivery. There is an urgent need to train local community to spread awareness about vaccinations, basic hygiene etc. Panchayats, zilla parishads, NGOs and government agencies must join hands in this endeavour so that the sick, especially infants, in this country do not die of preventible diseases because basic healthcare is lacking.