NEW DELHI: A 15-year-old schoolgirl in Uttar Pradesh has launched a charity to provide oxygen to impoverished patients after more than 60 people, nearly half of them children, died allegedly due to a lack of oxygen at the main government hospital in her home town Gorakhpur.
The patients died from encephalitis, a disease which causes brain inflammation. The government of Uttar Pradesh has vehemently denied that deaths were caused because the hospital ran out of oxygen due to unpaid bills despite media reports and families of victims suggesting so. The tragedy triggered outrage over the country’s poorly-managed state-run healthcare system.
“This tragedy was something that could have been prevented,” said teenager Khushi Chandra, who set up Oxygen Gorakhpur – www.oxygkp.com – to fundraise for oxygen in hospitals.
“This is very personal for me as it happened right at my doorstep… No child can be denied the right to life, and in this case the right to breathe,” she said in a statement.
“As an accountable citizen of my city and my country, I feel responsible towards ensuring such tragedies do not happen again,” she added.
Acute Encephalitis Syndrome and Japanese Encephalitis outbreaks are common in India, especially during the monsoon season, and claim hundreds of lives.
Often known as “brain fever”, encephalitis causes high fever, vomiting and, in severe cases, seizures, paralysis and coma. Infants and elderly people are particularly vulnerable.
Outbreaks of the virus tend to occur in poor, flood-hit areas such as Gorakhpur, where monsoons leave pools of stagnant water, allowing mosquitoes to breed and infect villagers.
Television pictures in mid-August – which showed parents holding the bodies of infants and saying they died because they did not have oxygen – led to widespread criticism of authorities in Uttar Pradesh.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government has fired the head of the hospital, as well as the head of the pediatrics department.
But the sacked hospital chief says he had repeatedly written to the administration to release funds to pay oxygen suppliers.
Government expenditure on public health is about one percent of GDP, among the world’s lowest. In recent years, the Indian government has increased health spending and vowed to make healthcare more affordable.
But Khushi said Indians should help under-resourced hospitals provide basics like oxygen to prevent needless deaths.
“I seek support from other like-minded citizens to join hands to ensure that oxygen never runs out in our hospitals,” she said.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla. Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)