LAHORE/SAHIWAL   -   At least eight newborn babies died at the District Head Quarters (DHQ) Hospital in Sahiwal after the air conditioner ran down in the nursery.

The parents blamed the hospital administration and said their indifference caused the deaths of their infants.

Additional health secretary Rafaqat Ali confirmed that at least eight infants died at the children’s ward of the hospital over the past 24 hours. But he said that five of them died at the time when AC was working properly, while the rest died after it stopped functioning.

However, Dr Shahid Nazeer, medical superintendent of the facility, said the children died after air conditioner stopped working. He denied assertions that the children died owing to alleged negligence on part of doctors.

In a letter written to the secretary of the Punjab government’s Specialised Healthcare & Medical Education Department, Sahiwal Deputy Commissioner Zaman Wattoo said that on his visit to the facility he had learnt that AC system at the nursery was not working properly for last many days.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar took notice of the death of children and directed the provincial health secretary and Sahiwal commissioner to carry out a thorough probe and submit a report. He directed them to take action   against those found responsible for the deaths of the children.

Usman Buzdar said that all sympathies of the Punjab government were with the bereaved families. “I have ordered for investigating the tragic incident,” he said.

Enraged at the death of the children, their heirs staged a protest on the Noor Shah Road, calling for strict action against the administration and doctors of the government hospital. However, they called off their protest after the local police held talks with them and assured them of action against the responsible.

Additional health secretary Rafaqat Ali earlier in the day said that statements of the staffers at the ward have been recorded and a report would be sent to the health secretary upon completion of the probe by Sunday evening.

Condemning the death of the infants, Leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz described it a sheer inefficiency of the Punjab government. Holding the chief minister and health minister responsible for the incident, he demanded immediate resignation of Dr Yasmin Rashid.

DC’s letter

Sahiwal DC Mian Zaman Wattoo paid an emergency visit to the hospital and directed to provide all facilities at the children’s ward. In the letter written to Specialised Healthcare & Medical Education Department secretary, he recounted the chain of events leading to the deaths of the children.

The DC said he received a frantic call around 12:40am on Sunday from an attendant of a patient who told him that infants had started dying due to heat at the paediatric ward of the DHQ Hospital. He said that he rushed to the place and found the air-conditioning system out of order which had resulted in abnormal indoor temperature.

Wattoo said the ward in-charge, Dr Sohaib, informed him that three infants had died due to “medical causes”. “Though three deaths have been officially reported, the possibility of unreported deaths cannot be ruled out,” the DC warned in his letter.

On his direction one air-conditioning unit was transferred from the MS office to the children’s ward, Wattoo said, adding that it had been learnt that the AC system of the ward had not been functioning for the last many days.

“One is appalled at the insensitivity of the administration of the hospital towards the sufferings of the patients. The ACs of empty classrooms were running whereas the infants were crying in high temperature.”

The DC in his letter recommended that biomedical engineer Luqman Tabish be suspended “for his failure to fix the AC issues” and an inquiry be ordered to fix responsibility on the hospital administration.