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Outrage mounts over India infant deaths

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A man holds the body of a child while walking out of Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur yesterday. AFP

GORAKHPUR (AFP) – A key ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing calls for his resignation after at least 64 children died at a government hospital in northern India that suffered oxygen shortages.

Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state where the deaths occurred, visited the hospital yesterday as angry relatives rushed to the scene demanding answers.

The deaths occurred over six days, with Indian media reporting that 30 children died on Thursday and Friday because of a lack of oxygen on the children’s wards.

Suppliers’ bills had allegedly not been paid, leading to a shortage that saw panicked families using artificial manual breathing bags to help their loved ones.

Local officials have conceded there was a disruption to the oxygen supply at the hospital in Gorakhpur, but insist the deaths were caused by encephalitis and other illnesses. “We are confident that none of the lives were lost because of this episode,” a senior government health official in Gorakhpur said yesterday.

But victims’ families have disputed this, describing the panic and chaos as patients began struggling from a sudden lack of oxygen.

“As soon as we reached the hospital, we were handed a small pump and told to keep pumping. I did so for over three-and-a-half hours,” one victim’s father, Shailendra Gupta, was quoted by the Indian Express as saying. “The next day, we were informed that he was dead.”

Gorakhpur’s police commissioner Anil Kumar said yesterday 11 more children had died at the hospital on Saturday.  Doctors admitted the oxygen supply had been disrupted for a couple of hours late on Thursday, but said no deaths had occurred at that time.

The hospital’s breakdown of the death toll showed a jump on Thursday when 23 infants died, including 14 babies at its neo-natal unit.

The head of the hospital was stood down pending an inquiry into the oxygen shortage, which allegedly stemmed from nearly $100,000 in overdue bills.

As anger grew over the deaths, opposition parties and government critics have led the charge for Mr Adityanath’s resignation.

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