Father who lost daughter seeks 'truth' about Indian hospital as weekend deaths push toll to 85

 15 Aug 2017 - 19:05

Father who lost daughter seeks 'truth' about Indian hospital as weekend deaths push toll to 85
Mohammad Zahid, who lost his five-and-a-half year old daughter Khushi, holds his daughter's photograph in Gorakhpur in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on August 14, 2017. AFP / Sanjay Kanojia


Gorakhpur, India: Mohammad Zahid battled exhaustion to keep a manual pump pushing air into his five-year-old daughter but slowly the life went out of Khushi, one of dozens of children who died at a Gorakhpur hospital that ran out of oxygen.

While a major controversy has erupted in India over more than 60 deaths at the Baba Raghav Das Hospital, Zahid told AFP in an interview of grief and anger that he did not believe the truth would ever come out.

"Not everything that happened there is being reported," the 34-year-old said, shaking his head in disbelief at official denials in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh that lack of oxygen caused any of the deaths.

A demonstration was held outside the Uttar Pradesh offices in New Delhi on Monday in a sign that others support Zahid, while India's National Human Rights Commission demanded a report on the cases from the state government.

Khushi, whose name means 'happiness' in Hindi, was taken to Baba Raghav with a high fever that quickly worsened. Hospital doctors said it was encephalitis, which is endemic in the region.

She was one of about 30 children who died after oxygen supplies ran out. Allegations have been made that the state-run hospital had not paid its bills.

"We didn't use the pumps for just two hours, as some reports suggest. We used them all through Friday," said Zahid, stood next to his son outside the family home in a rural zone of Gorakhpur. He held up a picture of Khushi.

Zahid said that he and a 17-year-old nephew took turns to use a manual pump in a desperate bid to keep the girl breathing.

"They told us to keep pressing to make sure my daughter keeps breathing."

Search for the truth

"It was exhausting. Our hands were in agony, but we could not stop. We had not eaten before going to the hospital and we were tired with all the stress and standing there.

"I did not move from my daughter's bedside from the time she was admitted until the doctors gave me the bad news."

Khushi was pronounced dead late Friday and buried the next day in line with Muslim rituals.

"An older man next to a one-year-old girl in the ward asked me to check if she was still breathing. She died only a few hours before my daughter," Zahid said.

At least 64 children, some newborns, died over a six-day period last week at the hospital.

More than 30 of the deaths occured after oxygen supplies ended on Thursday and Friday.

While the hospital superintendent has been suspended, authorities have insisted lack of oxygen was not a cause of death.

"How can they say that a supply disruption did not have a role in the deaths," said Zahid.

"My daughter could still move her body till the oxygen supply stopped. Her condition deteriorated as we used those manual air pumps," he added.

State chief minister Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, has vowed to punish anyone found to have been negligent. "He will not be spared at any cost," Adityanath said after the visiting the hospital on Sunday.

The chief minister blamed the deaths on encephalitis -- a mosquito-borne virus that every year ravages poorer eastern Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state with more than 200 million people.

But students hurled eggs and tomatoes at the home of the Uttar Pradesh health minister on Sunday. The opposition Congress party has said the children were victims of "murder".

Zahid, who does odd-jobs at a local market, was typical of the mainly poor families who use the state-run hospital.

"Of course I would like to know what happened to my child. But will they tell us? They never do, and does it even matter as my daughter is dead" said Zahid.

Meanwhile, Twenty-five children died over the weekend at the  hospital that suffered oxygen shortages, taking the overall death toll to 85, authorities told AFP .

Indian media have linked 30 of these deaths last Thursday and Friday to a lack of oxygen as suppliers' bills were not paid.

Authorities have since launched an inquiry into the causes of the oxygen disruption but have denied reports that it was responsible for any deaths at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh state.

"I can confirm 12 child deaths on Saturday and 13 on Sunday," P.K Singh, the hospital's new principal, told AFP late Monday.

Singh was appointed after the unceremonious removal of his predecessor last week.

An earlier official statement confirmed 60 child deaths in five days starting last Monday.

State chief minister Yogi Adityanath, a hardline Hindu priest from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, has vowed to punish anyone found to have been negligent.

The region is one of India's poorest and registers hundreds of child deaths each year from Japanese Encephalitis and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), which is rife in parts of eastern and northern India.

"Most of the 25 who died on the weekend were suffering from AES," Singh said, vowing to "improve the patient experience" at the hospital.