“The hospital has said that 23 children died on Thursday and 11 today. At the moment we only have this information,” senior police superintendent Satyarth Aniruddha Pankaj said on Friday.
The children were admitted at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College, the biggest hospital in Gorakhpur district of the most populous state in the country, and their deaths, according to multiple local media reports, were attributed to the acute shortage of oxygen supply to the wards housing the sick.
The reports added that the company supplying oxygen to the hospital halted the service apparently because previous bills, running into millions of rupees, had not been paid.
The hospital officials, however, rejected claims that the deaths had been caused by the lack of oxygen delivery to an intensive care unit (ICU) where most of the ill-fated infants were treated.
“There have been no deaths due to lack of oxygen supply,” said provincial Medical Education Minister Ashutosh Tandan, adding that the district magistrate of Gorakhpur had already ordered an investigation into the tragic case, and that “the report will be out within 24 hours.”
He admitted that there had been a disruption of oxygen delivery to the hospital on Thursday but added that it had “enough oxygen cylinders in stock.”
“Therefore the charge of lack of oxygen supply can be ruled out,” Tondon stated.
State-run hospitals in India are typically overcrowded and are often stretched to breaking point. Desperate patients usually face long delays for even minor treatment and might even be forced to share beds, prompting them to flock to private clinics and hospitals.
But consulting with a private physician can cost as much as 1,000 rupees ($15), a huge sum for millions of people living on less than $2 a day.