ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Preventable Deaths

What do the 18 maternal deaths in Jodhpur within a month say about our priorities?

Between 13 February and 15 March, 18 women lost their lives after childbirth and three infants also died, all in Jodhpur’s government hospitals. The Rajasthan government’s response to these deaths that left 18 homes bereft of a mother has been clichéd: it has appointed several committees to look into the deaths, announced cash compensation and suspended three doctors. Five of the committees have already given their reports. While their findings are being discussed and even contradicted and doctors’ organisations are protesting the suspension of their colleagues, the import of these 18 deaths and how they represent the neglect of maternal health, especially of poor women, is not being acknolwedged. The subsequent lukewarm political response to the tragedy clearly mirrors the value placed on the lives of poor women.

The principal reason given for the deaths of these women was contaminated IV fluid. The Kolkata-based Central Drug Laboratory found one of the three samples of IV fluid administered to the women to be contaminated. Media reports, quoting official sources, said that an experts’ panel from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh absolved the administration of Umaid hospital (where most of the deaths took place) of any culpability. The panel named contaminated IV fluid as the cause and added that six of the deaths may have been due to pre-existing reasons. On the other hand, the central health ministry’s experts found that not only had the hospital not adhered to treatment protocols but there was a lack of proper attention to women in labour, an absence of adequate supervision by senior faculty members and of proper infection control measures. The preliminary findings of the Jodhpur divisional commissioner have also indicted three doctors for negligence in supervision and irregularities in the purchase of medicines. Except for the PGIMER panel, the other committees have pointed a finger at the conditions in the hospital even as they took note of the contaminated fluid.

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