Conditions have continued to deteriorate in the strike-hit Niloufer children's hospital, situated in Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
As the stir of the junior doctors entered its fifth day, the hospital authorities confirmed 22 deaths since December 2, when junior doctors walked out protesting the attack on some of their colleagues by a local legislator.
Out of the 22 deaths in the state-run Niloufer, 15 cases were referred from private hospitals, it was stated.
"All the 15 cases were extremely critical. Since December 2, we have conducted about 57 deliveries, 18 elective surgeries and 16 paediatric surgeries. Total number of in-patients was at 1694 while admissions were 334. Total discharged patients as of now since December 2 is 432," the hospital authorities said.
With no signs of any let up in the strike, now affecting all government hospitals in the state capital, the flow of out-patients continued to dip. Even the usually bustling casualty ward of the premier Osmania hospital wore a deserted look, although senior doctors were roped in to handle emergency services.
"Out-patient wards are almost running empty. Getting additional help is also tough because already the doctors at teaching hospitals are busy with their own duties. I have asked all the senior doctors to cancel their leaves and report to their duties until the strike is resolved," informed Superintendent of the Osmania hospital S. Ashok Kumar.
However, it was not lack of medical care that triggered the deaths, it was argued. It was quite a normal scene and many children in serious condition were brought to the hospital from different parts of the state and also neighbouring Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy said that an average of five deaths was normal at Niloufer.
The Andhra Pradesh Junior Doctors Association (APJDA) is sticking to its demands for booking a case of attempt to murder against Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) legislator Afsar Khan, his suspension from the assembly and a law to prevent attacks on doctors.
The government is hesitating to take action against Khan as his MIM is an ally of the ruling Congress.
But the doctors seemed determined to persist with their agitation despite the pressure brought on them from many quarters.
While police did not allow them to form a human chain in front of the Osmania Medical College, over 1,000 medical and post-graduate students staged various kinds of protests on the college premises on Thursday. The junior doctors formed a human chain within the college premises and raised slogans demanding MLA Khan's arrest.
Street plays and skits depicting the all too frequent attacks on Government doctors and hospitals were staged throughout the day. All the classes at Osmania Medical College, emergency services and elective surgeries at Osmania and Niloufer hospital were boycotted.
Meanwhile, Additional Commissioner of Police (Central Zone) Shaikh Mohammed Iqbal said there was nothing either in the complaint of the junior doctors or the statement of three witnesses to warrant booking of a case against the legislator under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code
"If during our investigation we get some evidence that there was an attempt to murder, then we can book a case under the section. But at the moment there is no such evidence," he said.
Afsar Khan, the MIM legislator, represents the Karwan constituency in the state capital, and he was also involved in the attack on controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen in August.