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The deaths of 112 babies (December 1 to January 6) at Kota’s Jay Kay Lon Mother & Child Hospital have turned the spotlight on the deplorable state of neonatal healthcare in Rajasthan and sent the Ashok Gehlot government scrambling to mobilise resources. While questions are being raised about the crumbling infrastructure, staff shortage and poor hygiene at Jay Kay Lon-pigs were found roaming inside the premises-by all accounts, this had been a tragedy waiting to happen.

The death toll of 100 in December-the hospital’s worst for the month in the past five years-consists of mostly underweight newborns, many of whom were referred here from other maternity and non-specialised medical centres. In 2019, the average mortality rate at Jay Kay Lon was 5.6 per cent of the total admissions and 19 per cent of the admissions in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). For the record, infant fatalities at the hospital have been the lowest in 2019, if figures for the past five years are taken into account.

Paediatricians at Jay Kay Lon often say “jugaad (stop-gap)” is the order of the day. They say, so poor is the hospital’s layout it offers little sunlight-so essential for newborns. The NICU, set up in 2011-12, does not follow prescribed norms, such as an oxygen pipeline and air-conditioning to maintain temperatures at 27-30 degrees Celsius. In winters, newborns are kept comfortable with warmers and room heaters.

In 2012, the Gehlot government had sanctioned 60 beds for children and 60 for gynaecology, but the subsequent BJP government allowed only 45 in gynaecology. Both governments have failed to build a new wing here under the Mother and Child Hospital scheme of the central government. Little surprise then that the hospital’s NICU and emergency neonatal ward, which have sanctioned bed strengths of 42 and 21 respectively, pack in two, three and even four babies per bed, and nurses cater to many more babies than the standard protocol recommends.

Following the hue and cry after the current spate of deaths, the Gehlot government on January 2 ordered the setting up of a 12-bed NICU which is expected to be ready within three months. Much of the medical equipment that had broken down, including warmers, infusion pumps and ventilators, has been repaired or replaced. Eighty per cent of the senior doctor posts in paediatrics are vacant. While there is no word on when this shortfall will be bridged, the government has now appointed a senior professor, four assistant professors and 27 nurses. They are expected to join duty within six months.

“While these measures will improve the quality of treatment by reducing the stress on doctors, any significant improvement in the mortality rate in the NICU or the hospital overall is unlikely,” says Vijay Kumar Sardana, principal, Government Medical College, Kota, to which Jay Kay Lon is attached. Sardana says he is confident that every baby that died here had been given the required care. A significant improvement in mortality rate here is only possible if the Gehlot government quickly approves the proposal for a new wing with air-conditioned NICUs.  Source link