At least 18 newborn babies have died in a hospital here in the month of April alone and its superintendent was Wednesday removed from his post for not informing the state government about the deaths.
Unofficial sources, however, put the number of infant deaths at the state-owned Sree Avittam Tirunal (SAT) Hospital here at 23. The reason behind them is said to be infections in the labour room, according to blood tests conducted at the microbiology department of the Medical College Hospital.
The infection is reportedly caused by klebsiella bacteria, proliferating in unhygienic conditions. A few have been on account of staphylococci infection.
"The superintendent, Raj Mohan, ought to have brought the unusually large number of deaths to the attention of medical authorities. This is seen as a serious lapse on his part so we decided to relieve him from the post," state Health Minister P.K. Sreemathi told reporters here.
The hospital is attached to Kerala's premier Medical College in the state capital.
"We have seen the statistics from Feb 2006 and the normal mortality rate in this hospital is around 12 deaths every month and the total number of deliveries on an average is around 2,500 every month. The present level of deaths is a serious cause of concern," the minister said.
The government has also appointed a five-member panel of senior doctors to look into the matter and submit a report in three weeks time.
Another three-member committee has also been set up to oversee the Rs.10 million modernization of the Sree Avittam Tirunal Hospital. People belonging to the lower and middle classes avail of the hospital's services due to the lower treatment charges there.
A normal delivery here costs around Rs.3,000, while leading private hospitals charge over Rs.12,000.
C.R. Soman, former professor at the Medical College and a public health expert, told IANS: "The SAT hospital is simply overburdened and just cannot meet the present day demands.
"Poor facilities, shortage of qualified nurses and paramedical staff is another serious cause of concern and therefore has to rely on temporary staff. Radical changes are required."
Ironically, Kerala's health indicators are often said to be at par with that of developed countries. The state has the lowest infant mortality rate of 14.1 as against an all-India average of 70.5.