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West Bengal: Crib Deaths in Murshidabad Expose the Failing Health Infrastructure

Out of the 10 children who died, nine were newborn babies.
Out of the 10 children who died, nine were newborn babies.

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI

Baharampur: 10 children died in Berhamore's medical college hospital of the Murshidabad district on December 7, sending shock waves across the state. 

Out of the 10 children, nine are newborn babies. Two of the nine newborns died due to respiratory distress syndrome, one died due to extremely low birth weight (ELBW), another two died due to septicemia, one died due to congenital heart disease, and one baby died due to neurodegenerative disorder.  

Among the nine newborns, three were inborn patients; they were born within two days before their deaths. All the nine newborns were born with low weight, varying from 500-700 grams. Doctors at the hospital said that it is tough to rescue such low-weight babies. 

Five of the nine newborns were referred to the hospital from nearby clinics and hospitals. 

"Seven children were brought to the medical college hospital in critical conditions. One baby was suffering from cardiac issues, and another had severe malnutrition. We have 127 beds in the hospital, but there were 250 children here," said Dr Amit Dan, principal of Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital. 

Dan also admitted that many sub-division hospitals are not treating newborns and are instead referring them to the medical college hospital. 

"It takes three to four hours to reach the medical college hospitals from sub-division towns. Hence, when the newborns arrive here, they are critical."

Dan's comments reflect the poor state of public health in the Murshidabad district.

There are 986 government hospitals, dispensaries and health centres in the district, including three super speciality hospitals, namely Domkal Super Speciality Hospital, Jangipur Superspecialty Hospital, and Sagardighi Super Speciality Hospital.

Despite being tagged as "super speciality," these hospitals lack an adequate number of doctors, health staff and medical equipment. 

Unable to administer proper treatment, the doctors at these hospitals are forced to refer patients to the medical college hospital. Even the medical college hospital does not have proper treatment infrastructure for complex cases. 

The extremely low weight of newborns also raised the issue of malnutrition in the district. 

As per the 2011 Census, the total population of the district is 71,02,430. 

The NFHS-5 (2019-20) data noted that 55.4% of the women aged 20-24 were married before 18. Alarmingly, 20.6% of the women of the 15-19 age group were mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey. Only 52.8% of mothers consumed iron folic acid for 100 days or more when pregnant. Less than 50% of mothers received postnatal care from a doctor/nurse/LHV/ANM/midwife/other health personnel within two days of delivery. About 32% of children had not received postnatal care from a doctor/nurse/LHV/ANM/midwife/other health personnel within two days of delivery.

According to the NFHS-5 data, 32.4% of children under five were underweight. Alarmingly, 72.1% of children aged 6-59 months were anaemic.

The NFHS-5 also reported that 66.7% of pregnant women aged 15-49 were anaemic, and 77.6% of women aged 15-49 were anaemic.

The data explains the crisis in the health sector. However, no comprehensive step was taken to change the situation.

The Murshidabad District Committee of All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) has blamed the state administration and health administration for the death of these 10 children. 

"Women of Murshidabad District are struggling with growing poverty and malnutrition. In the post-COVID period, rural families' incomes decreased. But the government is not serious about the health issues of women."

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