With an aching stomach, little Kajal made the long journey from the local primary health care centre to the government hospital at Chapra in Saran district of Bihar. Her brother Rajesh Sah, who rushed her for treatment, saw his sister die before his eyes.
“At the Chapra Sadar hospital, the doctor said there was no needle and not enough oxygen for everyone. I saw my sister convulse twice. She did not move later and I called the doctor. He asked me for my mobile phone and using its light, he checked her eyes and declared her dead. In Chapra, the facilities were worse than those at the PHC,” Rajesh told The Hindu .
By Thursday, the death toll in the Bihar mid-day meal tragedy mounted to 23. Every devastated family in Gandaman village, from where the victims hailed, attribute the deaths to the delay in treatment.
Sad state of PHC
When news of the children falling sick spread in the village on Tuesday, anxious parents and guardians first rushed them to the PHC. “There,” said Ramanand Rai, who lost his five-year-old daughter, also named Kajal, “we were told there are no doctors. They said there is no water here ‘so make your own arrangements.’ So I took my daughter to a private clinic like the rest. There the doctor said this case was beyond him.”
People made a dash for the solitary ambulance that was carrying one patient. “The driver was not ready to take so many at one go, but we forced him to take the children to the Chapra hospital. All the way I kept checking my daughter’s pulse. But when I put her on the hospital bed, she had died,” Mr. Rai told The Hindu .
“Shut the hospitals”
“Why has the government opened these hospitals if they cannot provide treatment? Shut them!” cried Vinod Mahato, uncle of Arti (8), Shanti (6) and Bikas (5). The family lost all the three children, throwing their parents into a state of shock.
“The treatment itself started three to four hours late. Till then we were just moving from one place to another. The government is only playing politics with the bodies of the poor,” Mr. Mahato said. He said the children mentioned at home that the lunch tasted bitter like ‘neem’, but the headmistress Meena Kumari insisted they eat it. “She herself did not eat the meal, nor did her nieces. This is a clear conspiracy,” he said.
Shankar Thakur lost his only daughter, Kumari (7). “What can I possibly want now? Who can bring my daughter back? I can only hope that hospitals provide good facilities hereon. Many lives were lost only because of the delay,” he said.
Many parents said the doctor at the PHC initially refused to treat the children as he was on fast. However, A.R. Ansari, medical officer in-charge, denied the charge saying he was conducting a training programme at the time and had mobilised resources immediately. The two doctors at the PHCs had to be summoned immediately. A couple, employed on contract basis at the PHC, turn up only to mark attendance. The duo runs a nursing home.
Over 50 children were brought to the PHC. “There was no death in my PHC. All the deaths occurred later, either en route to Chapra or at the government hospital there. There was no shortage whatsoever. Much of it is false news,” Mr. Ansari told The Hindu .
Asked if atropine, an antidote to phosphorous poisoning was given, PHC’s store in-charge Satish Chandra Jha said the doctors had not asked for it. Mr. Ansari, however, said atropine was administered to the victims.
>>Chapra is in Saran district of Bihar. The report, “In Chapra hospitals, no doctors, no needles, no water” (July 19, 2013), referred to the government hospital at Saran district of Patna. It was an editing error.