Sunday, May 06, 2007

God owns country ?

Sreelatha Menon

Kerala, lauded for being a model state in education and many development indicators, has a healthcare system that seems to be chronically ill.

Here is something good, bad and ugly.

The good thing is that Kerala’s health minister has been held answerable by a court for the deaths of 39 newborn babies in a government hospital due to hospital induced infections. In fact, the minister and seven key health officials have been charged with culpable homicide by the additional chief judicial magistrate of Thiruvananthapuram.

The bad news is the death itself of 39 babies out of the 101 births in Sri Avittam Thirunal Hospital in the state capital in the space of three months.

The ugly part is that Kerala, lauded for being a model state in education and many development indicators, has a healthcare system that seems to be chronically ill.

Last year, it was a spate of deaths due to mosquito bite. The state said it was chikungunya and the Centre said it was not.

Hence, people kept dying without anyone making up his mind what ailed the hundreds who died untended.

The poor public healthcare apparatus was exposed like never before. Now the institutional deliveries that the state can take pride in, turn out to be as bad as the absence of any such facilities, which plagues the rest of the country where 70 per cent of children are born in their homes.

In Kerala, according to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS), 99.7 per cent of babies are born in hospitals. So is that good and bad, if government hospitals offer no guarantee of infection-free neo-natal facilities?

Yet the good part cannot be underplayed. For, the deaths themselves are not shocking if one were to go by the standards of hygiene prevailing in hospitals in the rest of the country. Add to that the indifference of health authorities when these things are pointed out.

So, it is probably a positive sign that the superintendent of Sri Avittam Thirunal Hospital has been held accountable and transferred, and a court has charged the health minister, the school teacher turned politician K P Srimathy Teacher, under Sections 304 and 34 of the IPC and the Opposition as well as the media are baying for the blood of the LDF government.

An estimated 1.2 million babies die in India each year in the first month after birth, making up two-thirds of the nation’s infant mortality of 67 per thousand live births. The Government of India has set itself a target of lowering it to 30 per thousand by 2010.

Kerala has the lowest infant mortality rate of 15 per thousand births as against the all-India average of 60. But again, that is hardly good news. For, while infant mortality has been declining even in states like Orissa, in Kerala, with 91 per cent homes having electricity, 97 per cent having toilets and everything seeming otherwise rosy, the infant mortality as well as the number of underweight babies have been on the rise as per the third NFHS.

So, what is wrong with the state which provides 90 per cent of nurses for the rest of the country and a substantial number to the rest of the world?

The earlier Kerala identifies its warts and treats them, the better for its children who are otherwise the most endangered species in the rest of the country.

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