As India Turns 70, Gorakhpur Demands Better Healthcare, Safe Drinking Water

Contaminated water is the biggest reason for diseases in Gorakhpur.

Gorakhpur: A day after independent India turned 70 this week, the number of children who died at Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das or BRD Hospital in Uttar Pradesh since last Monday crossed 70.

BRD hospital with its sprawling campus is the epicenter of treatment for viral encephalitis and caters to people from all districts of Eastern UP, Bihar and Nepal. Contaminated water and lack of proper sanitation lead to children contracting the disease. Living near paddy fields where mosquitoes breed and drinking infected water from shallow hand-pumps pose serious risk factors.

At Bhahat village, 20 km from Gorakhpur, the Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) remains desolate. An anxious Sumaya cradles her year-old nephew Shoaib on the steps of the PHC. He has high fever, has had two bouts of shock and needs hospitalisation. Sumaya has been asked to take him to BRD Hospital.

The encephalitis treatment centre at this PHC is closed. Inside, NDTV found three oxygen cylinders, of which only one is functional. A small cupboard of medicines that are surrounded by cobwebs, an indication that neither has it been used much nor cleaned. Each Encephalitis Treatment Centre (ETC) should have five beds but this one only has two. Oxygen and medicines at the Bhahat PHC are administered by the pharmacist who does so not by training but by experience. Doctors at the PHC blame the lack of resources and say it is because of being understaffed that in the last year they haven’t been able to admit a single patient.

“The children from the villages are undernourished and we do not have the manpower to monitor such critical patients. There should be a paediatrician in this centre but there isn’t. The district renovated the PHC building but look it remains empty because patients also know they may not get the appropriate treatment here,” said Dr Ajay Deokuliar, Medical Officer in-charge. The staff at the PHC tell us they are insufficiently trained to manage the encephalitis symptoms. They also agree when these symptoms happen simultaneously, the PHCs are not equipped with respiratory support machines.

None of these people have any knowledge about encephalitis because the Uttar Pradesh government has rarely run campaigns to spread awareness about it.

Sumaya says, “We know it is dimaag ki bimaari but we don’t exactly know how it spreads and preventive measures.” We ask Sumaya, what is the source of drinking water at her house. “A shallow handpum,” is her response.

Dr KP Khushwaha, the former Principal of BRD who has been treating encephalitis patients for three decades says, “Hygiene and sanitation, coupled with groundwater pollution have made this disease a major scourge. Under the rural piped water scheme, there should have been piped water available in all villages.”

At Mughalpura village, children travel through a swamp to reach their primary school. The piped water system was inaugurated in 2009 but is yet to deliver water. Due to years of irrigation, the ground water level has raised. A shallow tubewell at a depth of 10 feet is able to draw water. In the absence of piped water, the villagers drink this polluted groundwater.

Satish, a painter at the village, says, “Our children fall sick every year after drinking this water but what can we do. Not everyone can afford bottled water. Even at the government school, there is a water dispenser but it doesn’t work nor does the over-head tank inaugurated in 2009 to provide safe drinking water.”

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