Twelve infants die in a day at Indian hospital, opposition alleges negligence

By Francis Mascarenhas and Shilpa Jamkhandikar

NANDED, India (Reuters) – 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 the Shankarrao Chavan Government Hospital in the Nanded district, some 600 km (373 miles) from India’s financial capital Mumbai, hospital officials and local media said.

“My brother’s one-day old infant died on Sunday at the hospital, and he was the fifth baby to die. We saw four more babies die in front of us,” said Yogesh Solanki, whose family brought the baby to the hospital.

Solanki said the neo-natal unit of the hospital, where the infants were being treated, was very crowded on Sunday, with four to five babies in one incubator, which 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 this allegation or opposition accusations of negligence, saying in a brief phone call that he had no time because a government minister was visiting the premises.

Earlier on Tuesday, Wakode told ANI news agency, in which Reuters has a minority stake, that the 12 adult patients died of various ailments 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 by ANI as saying.

The Maharashtra government said on Tuesday it had launched an inquiry into the deaths of the infants and other patients on Sunday.

“Twenty-four is a big number. Why did so many deaths occur in one day? We will investigate if it was because of lack of medicines, or a shortage of staff or some other reason,” state minister Girish Mahajan told reporters.

Opposition politicians accused the Maharashtra government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and an ally, of gross negligence over the deaths of the infants.

“The BJP government spends thousands of scores of rupees on its publicity but there is no money for medicines for children?” Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party, said in a post on social media platform X.

In Shankarrao Chavan hospital on Tuesday, patients crowded the corridors and pigs roamed the premises outside, underlining the disarray at most government-run hospitals in the world’s most populous country.

India’s public healthcare system is woefully ill-equipped, plagued by a dearth of staff and equipment. The doctor-to-patient ratio is 0.7 per 1,000, according to the World Health Organisation, which recommends a level of 1 per 1,000.

Sunday’s deaths were the second such episode in Maharashtra in as many months. In August, 18 people admitted to a state-run hospital in the Thane region died over a 24-hour period, local media reported. The state government ordered an investigation into the incident at the time.

(Reporting by Francis Mascerehnas in Nanded and Sakshi Dayal in New Delhi; editing by Mark Heinrich)