Authorities in Bangladesh launched a probe on Tuesday to investigate the deaths of 32 patients including ten children at a state-run hospital in northeastern Sylhet city.
The deaths occurred within a 24-hour period beginning at 10:30pm on Monday.
Relatives of the dead have blamed doctors and staff at MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital, accusing them of negligence and incompetence.
Almas Ahmed, 16, said his newborn sister died suddenly after doctors injected her with medicine, presumably for pneumonia.
“My sister was born on Sunday and it was a normal delivery. But they refused to keep her in the children's ward citing overcrowding. Hours after she was injected, she died,” he said.
However, hospital officials said deaths occur on daily basis.
“Every day about 12 to 14 people die of various diseases in the hospital and these deaths are nothing abnormal. Of the dead children, five were newborns and had been suffering from diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia,” said Brigadier-General Abdus Sabur Mian, director of the hospital.
“Recently, 75 children were admitted into the hospital with various ailments including diarrhea, pneumonia and other cold-related diseases. Those who died were underweight and seriously weak when they were admitted,” he added.
The hospital has assured authorities that there is no contagious disease behind the deaths, but a team of experts has been sent to the hospital to investigate, Mian said.
News of the deaths, however, has caused an outcry in Bangladesh.
“So far we have found nothing suspicious concerning the deaths. However, we are investigating and [the investigators] will report to us within three days and we will see what needs to be done,” Jahid Malek, Health and Family Welfare Minister told a press conference in Dhaka on Tuesday.
The hospital’s children's ward has 56 beds but the number of children currently being treated there is 162, according to Prothom Alo, the Bangladesh's leading Bengali-language daily.
Bangladesh has made extraordinary progress in the health sector in the past two decades. Between 1990 and 2011, the under-five mortality rate declined from 151 to 44 deaths per 1,000 live births and maternal deaths have fallen by three-quarters, to 194 per 1,000 births, according to Unicef.
But while the urban poor have some access to basic health services, those in rural areas where 85 percent of the population lives have little health facilities to rely on.
“Neonatal death and maternal mortality rates remain high, primarily because most deliveries take place at home without access to proper medical care. Health facilities lack qualified staff and suffer from a shortages of supplies,” notes the Unicef website.