The Kota tragedy, where more than 100 children have died in the space of a month at the government-run JK Lon Hospital in the Rajasthan city, is in the crosshairs of the Indian Medical Association (IMA). The doctors’ body has hit out at the Government, critiquing their health policies as a contributing factor to the tragedy which has sparked much outrage.
“Health is a constitutional and birth right of every Indian,” said IMA president Dr Santanu Sen. “It is a state chapter. But unfortunately there is not much budgetary allocation for health. In a country having a population of 130 crore you only have 1.1 percent of the entire GDP for health whereas it should be four to five percent. On such a small budget you cannot expect to develop infrastructure in the entire country. Until and unless the infrastructure is radically developed, these types of infant mortality and child deaths will occur repeatedly.”
Investigations into the untimely deaths of the children at the hospital revealed a facility in shambles, even as a Rajasthan state government-convened committee absolved doctors at the hospital of wrongdoing. A deficit of doctors, equipment such as incubators not in proper working order, poor hygiene, poor maintenance such as broken windows exposing vulnerable children and infants to extreme weather conditions, and deficiencies of vital supplies such as medical oxygen have been pinpointed as factors contributing to the Kota tragedy.
Of doctors’ shortages, Sen said “there are so many unemployed doctors in the country but the government projects shortage of medical practitioners. If they can be employed properly, every Indian can get healthcare.” India has one allopathic doctor for every 10,926 people according to the National Health Profile, 2019. Whilst this figure is an improvement from years past, it is still far beyond the World Health Organization advises: one doctor for every thousand people.
In the wake of the Kota tragedy, the broader issues ailing India’s public health system have been thrust into the spotlight. Inadequate levels of infrastructure and personnel, as well as what many commentators perceive to be a lack of accountability, are in the public spotlight as has been observed in past tragedies, such as in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh in 2017 and Muzaffarpur, Bihar in 2019. The criticisms of the IMA only add fuel to the fire.