Twelve infants died in one day at a hospital in the Indian state of Maharashtra, sparking a political storm on Tuesday with opposition politicians accusing the regional government and hospital authorities of negligence.
The infants died on Sunday and were among 24 deaths recorded that day at Shankarrao Chavan Government Hospital in Nanded district, about 373 miles from India’s financial capital Mumbai, hospital officials and local media said.
“My brother’s one-day-old baby died on Sunday in the hospital and he was the fifth baby to die. We saw four more babies die before us,” said Yoges Solanki, whose family brought the baby to the hospital.
Solanki said the hospital’s neonatal unit, where the infants were treated, was overcrowded on Sunday, with four to five babies in an incubator that was otherwise designed to hold just one.
The dean of Shankarrao Chavan Hospital, Shyamrao Wakode, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on that allegation or opposition accusations of negligence, saying in a brief phone call that he did not have time because a government minister was visiting the facility.
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Earlier on Tuesday, Wakode told news agency ANI, in which Reuters has a minority stake, that the 12 adult patients died of various conditions, including diabetes, liver failure and kidney failure.
“There was no shortage of medicines or doctors. Proper care was provided to the patients but their bodies did not respond to the treatment, which caused deaths,” Wakode was quoted as saying by ANI.
The Maharashtra government said on Tuesday it had launched an investigation into the deaths of the infants and other patients on Sunday.
“Twenty-four is a big number. Why did so many deaths happen in one day? We will investigate if it was due to lack of medicine, lack of staff or some other reason,” state minister Girish Mahajan told reporters.
Opposition politicians have accused the Maharashtra government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and an ally, of gross negligence over the infant deaths.
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“BJP government spends lakhs of rupees on its publicity but no money for medicine for children?” Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party, said in a post on social media platform X.
At Shankarrao Chavan Hospital on Tuesday, patients crowded the corridors and pigs roamed the premises outside, underscoring the turmoil at most state-run hospitals in the world’s most populous country.
India’s public healthcare system is woefully under-equipped, plagued by a lack of staff and equipment. The doctor-to-patient ratio is 0.7 per 1,000, according to the World Health Organization, which recommends a level of 1 per 1,000.
Sunday’s deaths were the second such incident in Maharashtra in as many months. In August, 18 people admitted to a government hospital in Thane district died within 24 hours, local media reported. The state government then ordered an inquiry into the incident.