Were Kashmir's sick infants left at the mercy of the drug mafia and corrupt doctors? The final report of the inquiry commission, probing the alarming neonatal death rate in the GB Pant Children's hospital, which is the Valley's only children's hospital, has revealed that the number of neonatal deaths could have been much higher than what has been reported so far.
The hospital administration has reported about 500 neonatal and infant deaths in first five months of this year. But the probe report, accessed by NDTV, says the number is unreliable since the medical records have not been preserved in the hospital and 60 per cent admission files in the hospital are missing. The estimates, based on available case files, reveal the horror: The neonatal death rate has been 35 per cent between January and May this year.
The inquiry report says that the total number of neonatal admissions between January and May were 2219, but only 889 files were available in the hospital; the rest of files are missing. And out of the 889 patient whose records were with the hospital, 312 died, putting the neonatal death rate at 35.1 per cent.
The Jammu and Kashmir government had appointed a one-man probe panel headed by Professor Showkat Ali Zargar, Director of Shere-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) to investigate the alarming deaths in children's hospital after public outrage in May this year.
The inquiry report reveals that junior doctors were allegedly forced to prescribe medicine from substandard and unknown drug companies by former medical superintendent of GB Pant Children's hospital. The neonatal Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where critically ill newborn babies are admitted, was in pathetic condition. Infectious and dirty ventilator pipes were being used and reused on neonates for months together. And the oxygen pipes were filled with dirt.
The administration has now sealed the medical shop inside the hospital premises that was believed to be the source of the drug racket that has already claimed lives of hundreds of newborn babies.
"It is well known that people from lesser known drug companies operating through this shop were moving about in the hospital. The employees of the shop were also trying to promote drugs in the hospital... Of course such things can't thrive without a nexus. There has to be a nexus," said Dr Muneer Masoodi, Medical Superintendent, GB Pant Children's hospital.
The government has already attached former medical superintendent and Head of Department (HoD) Dr Javid Chowdery for negligence. The doctors who have deposed before the inquiry commission have alleged that when they would prescribe medicines from standard companies, it was changed and they were then humiliated by hospital administration. They alleged a nexus between the drug mafia and Dr Chowdery. The report says 30 resident doctors were under the direct control of Dr Chowdery who were prescribing spurious drugs to patients under his orders. And as the report talked about the academic corruption by Dr Chowdery, NDTV spoke to junior doctors who admitted that they had to pay bribes during their Post-Graduation (PG) courses and prescribe substandard drugs to save their academic future.
"When we went through the Doctor of Medicine (MD) examination, we were told that the external examiners came to Kashmir from different states and we have to give gifts to them. They said you can't give gifts in hundreds or thousands, you have to give a hefty gift to them. I was a victim of the same crime and money was taken from me and also from my other friends," said Dr Suhail, a Paediatrician.
Another doctor, Basharat, says he too had to pay the bribe and was forced to compromise on medical ethics. "You want to hit the wall. You want to bang your head, but there is no way out. There is no route to escape and you have to abide by certain things which the higher authorities tell you. It is difficult to prescribe a drug from only one particular company, but there was no way out," he said.
While Dr Chowdery has denied allegations of corruption in his reply to the inquiry commission, the mess in the hospital started way back in 2005 because of squabbling within the faculty and dual control of cantonment board and state government over the hospital. The rot, however, was detected after almost every second or third neonate or infant admitted in the hospital died early this year.
Although, there is some improvement in this hospital after public hue and cry, it is now clear that for a long time administration here has been playing with the lives of Kashmirs' newborn babies. The final inquiry report and allegations by doctors is a damning indictment on the healthcare system. Ironically, the government has not yet fixed the responsibility for the death of hundreds of neonates and infants in this hospital.
Reacting to the NDTV report, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said he is yet to receive a copy of the probe report. He, however, assured that action will be taken against the guilty once the investigative agencies fix the responsibility. The Chief Minister also said he will send the copies of this report to the state vigilance organisation and accountability commission. Here's the transcript of Mr Abdullah's interview on the report:NDTV:
Mr Abdullah, this report accessed by NDTV has startling revelations about neonatal deaths. 35 per cent neonatal deaths.Omar Abdullah:
First, it will not be possible for me to comment about the contents of the report that has not been made public. Clearly, how NDTV has got access to this will be the matter of another inquiry, because such reports unless they are shared with the government appropriately, for them to be shared with the media before they reach the Chief Minister, I think, is also a matter of concern. But that aside, the situation in GB Pant Hospital had reached almost dire proportions. There is no denying that failure at multiple levels, right from the hospital to the secretariat resulted in the situation reaching where I had, wherein I myself had to step in, and between myself and officers with me, we put in place certain corrective measures wherein I believe situation has been addressed to large extent. But that doesn't remove from the fact it had been allowed to deteriorate to such extent.NDTV:
One has heard allegations of substandard medicines being prescribed, allegations of improper use of equipment, tubes of ventilators being reused as result of which they can contain infections, host of things which were brought to my attention by current superintendent Dr Masoodi which have been corrected.Omar Abdullah:
Now once this report reaches me, which obviously will, there are certain steps which will have to be taken... I believe this report needs to form the inquiry both by the Vigilance and the Accountability commission. I believe responsibility needs to be fixed.NDTV:
This report is even talking about academic corruption. I spoke to some of the doctors, they say they had to pay bribe during their post graduate MD courses.Omar Abdullah:
I hope, these doctors who were so forthcoming in talking to you, will be as forthcoming in talking to the Vigilance and Accountability commission. Because these organisations have been set up exactly for this purpose - to put an end to corruption at various levels. No matter what level. Even the office of Chief Minister is not outside the ambit of the accountability commission. Therefore, these doctors who you have spoken to and I assume will appear in your report, will come forward and present their facts.NDTV:
Dr Javid Chowdery, the main accused in this case, has been appointed as Medical Superintendent despite there being certain complaints against him in the past. Why did your Medical education minister appoint him?Omar Abdullah:
That, unfortunately, is a question for medical education minister. I don't have an answer for that.NDTV:
But why should political leadership not take responsibility when there have been so many infant deaths?
Of course, they should take responsibility. Nobody is above responsibility. Where I have felt that in my own conduct that I have failed, I have stood up and taken responsibility. Therefore, I don't absolve anybody of responsibility of this. I am telling you that responsibility for this stretches from the hospital right to the secretariat. At certain levels it is for individual consciousness to take its own call. I can't tell their conscious how to respond. I know how my conscious will respond. As for as legally, let me just say, I believe that these are fit cases.NDTV:
Are you taking coalition compulsions. Or given the chance you will take action?
I believe action should be taken on the basis of substantive report. This report points us in the correct direction but it doesn't fix responsibility. It only states facts. Both Vigilance and Accountability commission should inquire about it and fix responsibility. I will assure you action will be taken where responsibility is fixed.NDTV:
You say you have not gone through this report.Omar Abdullah:
I have not seen the report.NDTV:
Once you go through, will you take action?
As I said, I don't believe this a responsibility fixing report. This report was to bring the fact. I will ensure that tomorrow itself the copy of this report I send to both the Vigilance and Accountability commission and they will be tasked to fix responsibility.