Infant deaths in west Bengal

Crib deaths, infant deaths, child mortality, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—call what you may—have assumed alarming proportions in West Bengal. Starting from October, 2011, there seems to be no cessation to the death race. 27-30 October was especially horrific. 12 and 16 babies died at the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital (BMCH) and BC Roy Chidren’s Hospital (BCRCH), Kolkata, respectively. Earlier, in June, 18 babies had died in the latter that lead to a big public outrage.The phenomenon continued with sporadic phases of rest before assuming menacing proportions in the last few days. Between 27-29 January, 15 babies died at a government hospital in Malda, while 10 died in a state-run hospital in Behrampore, Murshidabad.

While the reasons behind the deaths are varied and often repeated and the blame game far from over, it’s time to make a serious introspection of what can be done to stem the alarming phenomenon.

Infant Deaths in West Bengal

While maternity and child healthcare centres are a must at every divisional town, it’s often a tall order for most state governments in India and West Bengal is no different. Medical facilities hardly reach the interiors and the doctors too are reluctant to be deputed to such areas. There are no primary health centres in every block of a district and that has not happened ever since independence. In West Bengal, traditionally, health has often been a neglected sector. There is an immediate need to set up more hospitals like the BCRCH which unfortunately is the only paediatric referral hospital in the state. Even the 360-bed hospital is ill equipped to handle the 50 average admissions per day. One thing that the government can do is to relocate doctors to their native place when they pass out of medical college. In this way, the common disgruntlement of doctors that they’re appointed to nondescript place can be alleviated.

It’s a fact that setting up a hospital on the lines of AIIMS, New Delhi, is a tall order as most of our states have to grope with several issues that require pertinent attention, with health being pushed to the back bench. But a basic maternity and child care centre can be set up in all sub-divisions, if not all blocks, so that the mother doesn’t need to travel to the district hospital for her delivery. There’s also a need to have trained midwifes at block or sub-divisional health centres. Nursing colleges, and there are not too many in the state, are of imperative need. In this regard, the state government could perhaps utilise a part of the Rs. 8,750 crore package that has been promised by the Centre. While the lion’s share of the package is slated to be used for the development of the backward regions of the state, a part of it could be used to set up maternity and child care centres. The positive part is that the media outcry over the infant deaths has stirred up the several NGOs to take action. It’s expected that the state government would follow suit soon and the situation would turn for the better.

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