Eight infants died in the Intensive Care Unit of the District HQ hospital at Vehari on September 9, in circumstances that require close and immediate investigation. Four are said to have died as a result of malfunctioning ventilators — a lack of oxygen supply. Relatives of the dead children beg to differ and cite medical negligence. There were an estimated 13 infants who were underweight or otherwise failing to thrive in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the time of the deaths, and sources within the hospital say that a doctor and a nurse who were on duty at the time have been suspended. Relatives of the dead claim that those on duty were asleep at the time, and that the oxygen supply to the incubators ran out.
It is an unhappy reality that some babies die early in their lives no matter what is done to aid them. For eight children to die in such a short space of time is extremely unusual and points to external events being a contributory factor. If four died because the oxygen cylinders were not changed as those who had the responsibility to change them were either asleep or were absent from duty, then it may be a criminal matter and require not just an internal inquiry by the hospital but a police inquiry as well. As is usually the case when it appears that negligence has been exposed there are calls for urgent inquiries by the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, and for a report to be on his desk within 24 hours. Whilst we should not pre-empt the findings of the report the complaints of the relatives that ICU staff were negligent in their duties has the ring of familiarity around it. If this is found to be the case then exemplary punishment for those responsible is called for, but more importantly perhaps the underlying culture that allows such negligence needs to be addressed. Now is not the time for hurried cover-ups and fudged reporting. Children have died possibly needlessly. It must not happen again, and public confidence must be restored.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2014.
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