19 of the children who died at the Ram Manohar Lohia district hospital were still-born, say officials. The deaths took place between July 20 and August 21, when there were over 460 deliveries in the hospital. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's office stepped in and asked for an inquiry last evening after the local media attributed the deaths to an oxygen shortage like in Gorakhpur, his home base.
"Oxygen is not an issue in the entire episode. I think, of late, we are generating undue sensitivity to oxygen. It has become more of a buzzword," said Prashant Trivedi, UP's Principal Secretary, Health.
"No death took place due to lack of oxygen. The matter should not be blown out of proportion," insisted another official, Awanish Awasthi.
The hospital's Chief Medical Officer Uma Kant Pandey, Medical Superintendent Akhilesh Agarwal and another doctor Kailash Kumar, have been removed but the state government has denied that the action is linked to a police complaint filed by district magistrate Ravindra Kumar, the first official sent to investigate the reports of children dying.
Mr Kumar, who reportedly listed oxygen shortage as a cause, was transferred today. According to the state government, he had conducted his investigation on the phone. "This is not the right way to conduct a magisterial probe," said Mr Trivedi.
Mr Kumar's report said "30 children died mostly due to perinatal asphyxia (a condition in which a newborn can't breathe normally). During the probe, parents informed that there was delay in providing oxygen and medicine...The children died due to lack of adequate supply of oxygen."
The state government has now asked another top health official to carry out a fresh investigation.
Around 400 km away in Gorakhpur, child deaths brought the spotlight on the town's biggest government hospital. Over 30 children, mostly newborns, died within two days last month of various causes including oxygen shortage.