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Over 15,000 infants died during their treatment for various ailments at the newborn care units across Gujarat during the last two years (2018-2019).
Responding to the questions asked by Congress MLAs, during Question Hour, about the total children born in government hospitals, Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister Nitin Patel said 106,000 infants were born in government hospitals in major cities in 2018 and 2019.
Of this nearly 72,000 were admitted to the Sick Newborn Care (SNC) units of government hospitals that were set up in almost all districts of the state.
During the period, almost 21 percent of the admitted infants died during the treatment.
The highest number of infant deaths were reported from Ahmedabad district (4,322) followed by Vadodara (2,362) and Surat (1,986), among others, he further informed.
The minister also asserted that the staggering number included infants that were born somewhere else but were referred to these care units.
Patel said the government was working towards taking active steps to curb infant deaths during treatment in the hospitals. Appointment of paediatricians and medical officers, imparting training to doctors and staff, timely availability of required equipment and other essential items at these units were the steps taken by the government.
Health Minister Nitin Patel had said that the infant mortality rate is 30 per 1,000.
"Every year 12 lakh infants are born. Of these, 30 out of every 1,000 infants die due to malnutrition, premature delivery, or because the mothers are not able to reach the hospital in time," the minister was quoted in the Hindustan Times.
In the past, several news reports have highlighted the state government's dysfunctional health care system.
In Gujarat's Rajkot hospital, 141 children died in December 2019.
In a separate case, the official records at Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Hospital in Rajkot pointed out that 111 infants died in the hospital in December, 71 in November and 87 in October last year.
Ahmedabad Mirror had reported that the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, which is one of the significant medical facilities in the state, witnessed massive protests in November 2017 after 57 infants died there in just 15 days.
In 2016, 81 infants died in the same time period.
Congress Chief Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala took to social media to express his disappointment with the revelation on infant mortality rate.
"15,013 infants died. Every day 20 infants are dying. The maximum number of infant deaths — 4,322 — in Ahmedabad. This is Amit Shah's parliamentary constituency. Will the cries of babies be heard? Will anyone raise questions? Will the TV media show courage?" the tweet said.
The Indian Express reported Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi slamming the Gujarat government on its failure to curb the infant deaths. He said, "The state government is turning a blind eye towards such a large number of infant deaths. It hasn't taken any remedial action."
Pointing at the government's lackadaisical approach towards health care, he said that there are 65 percent vacancies in super-speciality services. A staggering 35 to 45 percent of doctor posts are lying vacant in major cities and another 60 percent paramedical staff posts are vacant in the district and civic hospitals.
A direction that was issued to the units to keep two new-borns three meters apart to prevent infection was not being followed and since the death reports continued to rise, they demanded Chief Minister Vijay Rupani's Resignation over the matter.
One of the key parameters to measure the progress of a government is the facilities it extends to its vulnerable group of people, namely women, children and disabled. A society must care for the healthcare services it offers to pregnant/lactating women and newborns. The track record for the Gujarat government on the healthcare front has been dismal in the last decade.
Gujarat's rankings for standard nutrition outcome indicators remained extremely poor in 2015-16. It was ranked 29 in terms of childhood stunting, 34 in terms of childhood wasting and 32 in terms of childhood underweight.
The union health ministry also found an alarming shortage of specialists including surgeons, gynaecologists and paediatricians at community health centres in Gujarat in the same year.
While the Gujarat model for far too long has been equated with prosperity and progress, these numbers puncture a hole on the claims of development.
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