One by one, the infants and children slipped away Thursday night, their parents watching helplessly as oxygen supplies at the government hospital ran dangerously low.
At least 30 children died Thursday night and into Friday at a hospital in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after its supply of liquid oxygen was disrupted over an unpaid bill, a home ministry official told the Press Trust of India, citing police reports.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. as medical practitioners and relatives — the tanks running dry — handed out manual resuscitator bags to families in a desperate attempt to save the tiny patients.
“We saw children dying around us,” said the father of one victim, who gave his name only as Vijay. “Obviously it’s the hospital’s fault. So many children have died because of them. My son was fine until nighttime, then something wrong happened.”
Two more children died Saturday at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College hospital in Gorakhpur, an impoverished area in the eastern part of the state, as authorities scrambled to firm up supplementary supplies and investigate the tragedy. The government suspended the medical college principal Saturday.
The state’s health minister and hospital officials have denied charges that the deaths were caused by the oxygen bill dispute. An estimated 60 children have died at the hospital since Aug. 7 from a variety of causes, officials said.
On Saturday, parents of the victims described feelings of anger and bewilderment over the incident, saying they were struggling with guilt over not being able to save their children.
“The idea is devastating — that she had to suffer while trying to breathe,” said Manger Rajbhar, the father of a 5-day-old girl who died in the chaos.
The deaths provoked widespread outrage and condemnation across the political spectrum and in social media, where a political cartoon spread that showed the babies as little angels hovering in the sky as an Indian government official tries without success to reach them.
“30 kids died in hospital without oxygen. This is not a tragedy. It’s a massacre,” Indian Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, a child advocate, said in a tweet. “Is this what 70 years of freedom means for our children?” The country is set to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its independence from Great Britain on Tuesday.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Annie Gowen