Angry students gathered outside the administrative block of the University of Hyderabad (UoH) on November 26, raising slogans against the university administration. The protest was triggered by the death of Rashmi Ranjan Suna, a 26-year-old PhD scholar from UoH who succumbed to multi-organ failure caused by dengue on the morning of November 25.
Rashmi was a first-generation Dalit scholar hailing from the Kalahandi district of western Odisha. He had joined UoH in 2013 for his post-graduation, and joined the PhD programme in 2015. He was currently in the fourth-year of the programme in the School of Physics. He was the sole breadwinner of his family since his father, who was an agricultural worker in his village had to stop working after being diagnosed with a kidney disease. Rashmi was receiving the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship.
Alleged Medical Negligence
On November 19, Rashmi went to the University’s health centre around 1 AM, complaining that he was down with fever. The doctor who was on duty at the time prescribed him some medicines and asked him to take rest, saying that it was just a case of viral fever. However, at 4 AM, he went to the health centre again, complaining of an increase in fever and body ache. One of the on-duty doctors, Dr. K Varaprasad referred him to the Himagiri hospital. Himagiri hospital had been blacklisted by the University, but when Rashmi’s friend asked the doctor to refer him to the Citizens Hospital, the doctor allegedly said that this was just a minor fever and could be treated at Himagiri.
The students said that he once he was taken to Himagiri, the doctors admitted him in the general ward and immediately started pumping saline water into his body. When he later complained about severe body pain, he was shifted to an ICU room. The students alleged that the ICU ward in the hospital is nothing but a hall divided into six rooms with cloth curtains. They have also said that the ICU rooms were full of mosquitoes and lacked the basic facilities.
The hospital conducted some blood tests and declared him as “dengue-free” even though his platelet count decreased to 45,000 in the three days that he spent in the ICU ward. The students have alleged that the doctors from the health centre too, did not bother to inquire about Rashmi’s condition. On the afternoon of November 23, Rashmi decided to move to a different hospital because his condition kept deteriorating. Himagiri Hospital asked Rashmi to pay the bill of Rs. 34,000 before moving to a different hospital. He had to pay the amount out of his own pocket, as the hospital refused to wait for a claim being made for the health insurance offered by the university, as the money would take one week to process.
When he was moved to the Citizens hospital in the evening, the doctors there started treatment based on the earlier reports from the Himagiri hospital and the University health centre. But as Rashmi’s condition deteriorated even further, the doctors expressed astonishment when they realised the discrepancies in the previous blood reports. He was tested positive for dengue, and put under observation for the next 48 hours due to his severe condition. After the observation period, the doctors informed Rashmi’s friends that multiple organs were damaged and there were signs of internal bleeding, following which he was put on external life support which reportedly cost around Rs. 1 lakh per day. Rashmi passed away on the morning of November 25.
The Students’ Demands
On November 26, students of the university protested outside the administrative block, urging the administration to listen to their demands. The demands included provision of a compensation of Rs. 25 lakh for Rashmi’s family from the University as well as Himagiri hospital, legal action by the University against the hospital for medical negligence, inquiry and action against the doctor of the health centre who referred him to Himagiri despite being requested by Rashmi’s friend to refer him to Citizens hospital, and formation of an enquiry committee comprising of third party medical experts, student representatives, and faculty representatives to look into the issues that led to Rashmi’s death.
Talking to Newsclick, Abhishek Nandan, a PhD scholar from UoH, said, “The CMO (Chief Medical Officer) of the University health centre also said that a wrong diagnosis was made by the Himagiri Hospital, and there was major medical negligence on their part. Now she is being targeted by the Vice Chancellor for standing with the students.” He further added that the protestors were also threatened by the chief warden.
Following this, the University has set up a committee to look into the matter.