A Tsumani of grief, condolences and outrage has poured across all spectrums over the tragic death of 10 new born babies in the blaze that gutted the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the Bhandara District Hospital. The devastating fire has left the society numb even as top leaders offered their deepest sympathies to the shattered families of the infants.
While seven babies were lucky to survive death in wake of brave rescue efforts by some of the hospital staff members, a huge question mark hangs over the entire episode over the poor safety measures and lack of preparedness for emergency by the administration.
A probe has been ordered and will bring to fore the actual reasons behind the tragedy but history of such incidents in the country leaves an uneasy feeling that the investigation would yet again border on perfunctory, leaving the root cause unattended. Loss of tender lives, who had just entered the world, is a big shock to emerge out from.
Life will go on with emotional adjustments for the kin of the deceased but if justice needs to prevail then the political and bureaucratic shields must be thrown out by the Maharashtra Government while bringing the guilty to the books.
The culprits behind the tragedy deserve no pardon. The issue is not limited up to a detailed probe and subsequent legal process to punish the guilty people. It has to go beyond its limited scope and delve into the preventive measures needed to avoid further such tragedies. This is not the first time that the country has seen a tragic fire incident at a healthcare institution. One study has pegged the number of major hospital fires in India at 33, between January 2010 and December 2019.
A research paper titled ‘A study on reported fire incidents in major hospitals of India’ by authors Shyam Siddharth Rao Patharla, Souri Reddy Pyreddy and Shilpa N Panthagani notes that the most common cause of fire in hospitals was due to electrical short circuit, air conditioners being the most common source.
Initial reports suggest that electrical short circuit caused the fire in Bhandara District Hospital. The galling part is the lack of preparedness of the staff to deal with such emergency. Prima facie, the neonatal ward seems to have been left unattended by
the staff on duty as no employee suffered any injuries when fire broke out in the unit.
That the smoke did not trigger a fire alarm points to the lack of smoke detectors in the hospital. Safety manual says, there are several protocols and preventive measures which should be followed in hospitals. Two basic fire safety equipment — smoke detectors and sprinklers — are must in averting major breakouts. These two equipment can take care of the initial break-out to some extent.
An RTI information revealed that the hospital lacked fire safety equipment. The hospital did not have sprinklers, smoke alarms, fire extinguisher and marked fire escape routes. The Power Department had even submitted a proposal of Rs 1,52,44,783 to the Government but the request remained confined to red tape.
The investigation must cover all these aspects while putting the blame on the hospital staff alone. This chain of indifference towards human life is the major cause of such tragedies. Bring all of them to the book, at least for the sake of those innocent babies.