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Negligence kills

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Pramila Devi Kanu with her father-in-law. She lost her 12-year-old daughter, Rani, one month ago.

From the Nepali Press

Radhe Shyam Patel for Center for Investigative Journalism in Nepal

In the past two months, 26 people have died in ward no. 4 of Pokhariya, a newly minted municipality in Birganj. The incidents came to light on 27 January after reports in the local media.

Pokhariya isn’t an obscure, inaccessible village in the hills but in fact a large municipality in Madhes. We made our way to Satwariya to investigate the underlying causes of the deaths and the subsequent lack of coverage.

Pramila Devi Kanu lost her 12-year-old daughter, Rani, one month ago. Pramila doesn’t say much but her silence speaks volumes. Standing outside her home, the mourning mother managed just one sentence: “I still cannot believe Rani is gone.”

Rani, a sixth grader, was suffering from diarrhea for a week and a half as her family tried every means within their reach to find a remedy. Various family members took Rani to local hospitals and shamans in neighbouring villages but her condition only worsened.

When she started speaking deliriously, the family took her to Narayani Hospital but she died soon after being received there. “Bring better doctors to Pokhariya Hospital otherwise shut it down,” said Pramila with justifiable frustration.

Sonu Kanu Sah and Bindu Kanu Sah who lost their six-month-old son Arjun

Sonu Kanu Sah and Bindu Kanu Sah who lost their six-month-old son Arjun

Sonu Sah Kanu’s six-month-old son, Arjun, never woke up from his sleep. The older of twin boys, Arjun showed no signs of sickness.

“For a week I felt like my life had ended with him,” says Sonu, who runs a sweet shop in Pokhariya Bazaar. She is slowly coming to terms with her loss but it remains unclear exactly what happened, along with who is to blame for Arjun’s death.

The whole village is now terrified after the recurring incidents. Uncertain as to the cause of multiple deaths, many put the blame on the cold.

Sunita's father Babulal Ram is one of the 26 people who died in Satwariya.  According to the District Health Office, Parsa's report Ram's cause of death was paralysis.

Sunita’s father Babulal Ram is one of the 26 people who died in Satwariya. According to the District Health Office, Parsa’s report Ram’s cause of death was paralysis.

To avoid negative publicity due to the unknown reasons for the sudden loss of lives, the District Health Office in Parsa published an entire report on cause of death for each person. However, the report received no attention in the national or regional media, as Kathmandu and even Madesh remained blissfully ignorant of the occurrences. After visiting the afflicted Dalit community, we surmised that because most of the deceased were poor, marginalised people who were disempowered, no one was willing to speak out on their behalf.

Preparing an autopsy report is a straightforward task. But what was lacking in the DHO’s perfunctory report was a deeper analysis of the incidents through economic, social and political perspectives.

Some find a more direct culprit deserving of the blame. Says 60-year-old local Jogindar Sah Kanu, “It is because of Pokhariya Hospital’s negligence.”

The hospital was upgraded from a primary health care centre in 2003 with an investment of Rs 2,500,000 by the then Health Minister Rajendra Mahato. Out of a budget of Rs 6.4 million per fiscal year for the 15-bed hospital, only Rs 1 million is allocated for medicines. The remainder is a breeding ground for corruption.

Severely understaffed, the hospital has two medical officers, Dr Roshan Chaurasiya and Dr Anisha Mahato, but is without a medical superintendent. The three nurses that were originally stationed at the hospital have been transferred elsewhere.

“The Central Zonal Health Directorate in Hetauda decided to transfer the nurses so the hospital doesn’t have even one nurse at the moment,” said Arun Kumar Mahato, chief of the Public Health Office in Parsa. The remaining staff comprises of only one health assistant, two assistant health workers and one lab technician. The birthing centre, that was designated to cater to more than 40 cases every month, is currently closed.

Mahato blames the hospital’s failings on the chief of the hospital development committee, Umesh Chauhan, who oversees buying medicines and providing health services. But Chauhan refutes the claim, saying the need to handle the current crisis caused a two-month delay in buying medicines.

Chairman of Pokhariya’s 4th ward, Sadhu Sah, says there are other problems in the area apart from defective hospitals. “There are social causes that have led to the incident,” said Sah. “The lack of education and awareness is one. Since people are poor they cannot identify and treat the illness on time.”

Preventable deaths caused by common ailments such as fever, diarrhea and pneumonia surely should have triggered a human rights uproar. Still reeling from the needless deaths of their youth, the government has failed the people Pokhariya.

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One Response to “Negligence kills”

  1. vino on Says:

    negligence – the biggest disease of all nepalis. it’s everywhere! suffer for it.

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