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India probing dozens of child deaths amid oxygen disruption at hospital

By Danielle Haynes
India probing dozens of child deaths amid oxygen disruption at hospital
Doctors work on patients with encephalitis at Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur, eastern Uttar Pradesh, India, on November 13, 2011. Some 60 children have died at the hospital in less than a week, prompting an investigation. File Photo by Anindito Mukherjee/EPA

Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Officials in India are investigating why dozens of children have died at a hospital in Uttar Pradesh province in the past week and whether the spate of deaths is linked to a disruption in oxygen, a district magistrate said Friday.

At least 30 children, some of them newborns, have died at the state-run Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur in the past 48 hours, and 60 in the past five days.

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Though the deaths coincided with a disruption in the hospital's oxygen supply Thursday, the province's government has denied a connection and said the children died of "various medical reasons and illnesses."

Most of the deaths were of children admitted to the neonatal and encephalitis wards.

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"There have been no deaths due to lack of oxygen supply," said Uttar Pradesh's medical education minister, Ashutosh Tondon.

The Press Trust of India, though, ran a Union home ministry statement quoting the Gorakhpur police superintendent, who blamed the deaths of 21 children on a shortage of oxygen.

A private contractor stopped supplying oxygen to the hospital over a past-due bill, district magistrate Rajeev Rautela said.

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"The medical college officials told us that there was alternative oxygen supply, therefore the charge of lack of oxygen supply can be ruled out," he added.

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Rautela said a magisterial investigation had been ordered into the deaths.

Akhilesh Yadav, the former chief minister and Samajwadi Party leader, alleged that the hospital did not conduct port mortem examinations on the dead children.

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"Kins of the deceased were shooed away after handing over dead bodies to them," he said. "Admission cards were taken out of records. Extremely sad."

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