Felled by fire: On newborn deaths in Maharashtra hospital
To avert another Bhandara-like hospital inferno, govts must address underlying causes
The deadly fire that snuffed out the lives of 10 infants in the Bhandara District General Hospital in Maharashtra is a shocking reminder that safety norms in several medical facilities in India do not pass muster. The parents of the babies who perished in the sick new-born unit have been plunged into a lifetime of trauma. Some of the victims, a few just days old, had been brought to the hospital for better care from smaller health facilities; seven had a providential escape. There are reports of poorly trained staff failing to respond adequately. The terrible blaze joins the long list of such accidents recorded in government and private hospitals, underscoring a painful reality: safety protocols are yet to be institutionalised even in places where people legitimately expect a high degree of professionalism. Last year, there were devastating fires in COVID-19 facilities in Vijayawada and Ahmedabad, with several casualties, blamed on poor oversight by fire authorities or faulty electrical repairs. The Maharashtra government has ordered a probe into the Bhandara fire to be concluded in three days, and a fire audit of hospitals, but a perfunctory inquiry cannot effectively address the underlying causes. Hospital fires are a distinct entity, and research indicates that there are specific factors that trigger them off and aggravate their impact.
Intensive Care Units, neonatal ICUs and operating rooms are often the site of fires, implicating the presence of a high concentration of oxygen in a confined space. A review of Indian hospital fires published in the Journal of Clinical Anesthesia identified higher oxygen availability in intensive care facilities as the likely primary cause, with motors and electrical units in the room providing the ignition, and plastics fuelling it.
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The Hindu, 11 January, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/felled-by-fire-the-hindu-editorial-on-newborn-deaths-in-maharashtra-hospital/article33545027.ece?homepage=true