In August 2017, the Baba Raghav Des (BRD) Medical College in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh witnessed more than 300 child deaths within the space of a month. This included 63 child deaths between August 10th and 11th. Deaths occurred in children below the age of twelve, many of them newborns.
The deaths were due to encephalitis, a condition which made headlines again this year in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district as well as other parts of India. While malnourishment was cited as a cause behind the Bihar encephalitis deaths, medical oxygen shortages were cited as driving the tragedy in Gorakhpur.
At the time of the incident, the BRD Medical College was in arrears with suppliers of medical oxygen. They ultimately cut the supply to the hospital after repeatedly writing to the hospital to warn them that this course of action would be unavoidable if dues continued to go unpaid. For encephalitis patients, this proved catastrophic as a continuous supply of medical oxygen is required to keep these patients in a steady state.
“Khan was hailed as a hero for his actions during the crisis: he reportedly went door to door between different hospitals, paying them for cylinders of medical oxygen out of his own pocket. Yet the Gorakhpur doctor was booked on numerous charges…removed from his post, and imprisoned for nine months.”
The tragedy sparked controversy both at home and abroad. India’s National Human Rights Commission deemed the incident a “violation of [the] right to life and health of the innocent victims.” Investigations followed and one figure who repeatedly came up was Dr Kafeel Khan, a Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the BRD Medical College and posted at the time of the tragedy.
Khan was hailed as a hero for his actions during the crisis: he reportedly went door to door between different hospitals, paying them for cylinders of medical oxygen out of his own pocket. Yet the Gorakhpur doctor was subsequently booked on numerous charges related to the deaths, removed from his post, and imprisoned for nine months before being granted bail the Allahabad High Court. The High Court found no evidence of medical negligence on the part of Khan, and a probe has now concurred: “the allegations against the accused are insufficient….therefore it is submitted that the accused officer is not guilty.”
Charges levelled included negligence, dereliction of duty, and culpable homicide – all charges the Gorakhpur doctor disputed, levelling that he was scapegoated in the tragedy. “I hope the murderer tag will be wiped out now,” he said after being cleared.
Now Khan is appealing for an apology from the state government under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh. “From day one, I knew I was not wrong,” he said. “I had the support of my family and the lakhs of people who believed in me. The Allahabad High Court, while granting me bail on April 25, also said there was no negligence and corruption on my side.” He has called for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquest into the tragedy.
“We have been victimised by the UP government machinery for the past two years,” Khan said. “I hope the Yogi government will accept its mistake and reinstate me. The justice will be done when the real culprits are brought to book.” .