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The pediatrics department of JMCH has a capacity to accommodate 40 patients
The pediatrics department of JMCH has a capacity to accommodate 40 patients|EastMojo image
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Assam infant deaths: ‘Mothers did not receive any antenatal care’

Six-member internal inquiry committee submits report to Jorhat Medical College and Hospital superintendent; death toll rises to 18

Harsha Pareek

Guwahati: Just a day after the news broke out about the death of 15 new-born babies over a course of six days from November 1 to 6 in Assam’s Jorhat Medical College and Hospital (JMCH), a six-member internal inquiry committee led by Prof Pranabjit Biswanath submitted its report to hospital superintendent Dr Shaurabh Borkotoky on Friday evening. The committee was constituted to inquire into the mysterious deaths.

Meanwhile, the number of infant deaths at the hospital has reached 18, as per some reports.

Talking to EastMojo about the findings of the committee, Dr Nilutpal Bhattacharjee, the deputy superintendent of JMCH, said: "The mothers of all the 15 babies who lost their lives had not undergone any antenatal check during their nine-month pregnancy period. All the mothers of the newborns that died in the hospital did not have records of pre-natal checks either at the JMCH or at the peripheral health centres like referral hospitals or PHCs of the district from where the expectant mothers were referred to the JMCH in a critical condition at the final stage of delivery.”

The report further says that the mothers in question had arrived in the hospital with labour pains and were immediately admitted for normal deliveries.

Highly-placed sources in the state health department revealed that the report also said that the babies were born with extremely low-birth weight, with nine of them weighing as low as 900 gm, 1.2 kg and 1.3 kg. The minimum healthy weight for a new-born baby is said to be 2.5 kg. Most of the deceased babies were diagnosed with growth retardation and were pre-term deliveries.

It is also mentioned that out of the 15 deceased, five babies were born with asphyxia, which refers to a condition arising when the body is deprived of oxygen causing unconsciousness or death. Five of them were born with sepsis, a condition which develops when the immune system releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection causing inflammation throughout the body. One baby was born with severe congenital heart disease.

Experts point out that mortalities caused by all three diseases - asphyxia, sepsis and congenital heart disease are easily preventable.

Speaking to EastMojo, Dr Manab Narayan Baruah, assistant professor, department of pediatrics, pointed out, “One of the probable causes of the babies being born with asphyxia could be an unduly prolonged labour pain. Lack of timely referral of the patients and timely intervention could be one of the major causes behind the deaths.”

He further added, “The massive influx of patients during festive seasons leads to a lot of pressure on the hospital staff and its resources.”

The pediatrics department of JMCH has a capacity to accommodate 40 patients but the number of patients admitted at that time was 84. It receives more than 80 patients on an average during the festive season.

Meanwhile, a team of four doctors led by the director of medical education, Anup Barman, reached the JMCH on Saturday morning to look into the incident. The other members of the team include Dr Sridhar, consultant, UNICEF; Dr Rita Borah, neonatologist, Assam Medical College and Hospital; and Dr Rukia Begum, department of pediatrics, Gauhati Medical College.

In a clear reflection of the lack of communication and coordination among the health department officials, Jorhat deputy commissioner Narayan Konwar earlier told the media that he was unaware of the tragic deaths and that he had not received any official communication from the JMCH authorities. He had said that he only got to know about the incident from the joint director, health, Amrit Saikia.

Last year, a new-born baby girl was allegedly switched at birth; it was only after the Jorhat police received a report last week from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Calcutta, stating that the newborns’ DNA did not match with those of the parents, that the incident came to light. The baby died the same day. Prior to that, a deceased baby was allegedly partially eaten by stray dogs.