The cries of Anjali Baishnab were strong enough to pierce the heart of anyone inside Kolkata's Dr BC Roy Memorial Hospital, where her 15-month-old daughter Ahana succumbed to respiratory illness on 2 March.
The 28-year-old mother is still in denial – she cannot believe that her child is no more.
Ahana was admitted to the government hospital on 28 February with acute respiratory illness and fever due to suspected adenovirus, a medium-sized and non-enveloped virus that can cause respiratory illnesses like the common cold, conjunctivitis, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
She battled the ailment for two days but didn't survive.
The infant, who hailed from Maslandpur in North 24 Parganas, had been transferred from the local district hospital after her condition deteriorated.
But Anjali is not alone in her tragedy. The city has been witnessing a huge number of children dying of suspected cases of adenovirus over the past few weeks.
As per the latest data released by the West Bengal government, around 12 children had died across the state as of 1 March due to Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) caused by different viruses – and over 5,213 children had been suffering from the said infection.
The report also claimed that 5,000 beds in 121 hospitals in the state have the facilities to treat the infection.
But sources told FIT that nearly 40 children have died, mostly aged up to 2.5 years, due to the virus until the past week in different government hospitals in Kolkata and its outskirts.
Most of the casualties are being reported in Dr BC Roy Memorial Hospital and Calcutta Medical College, where serious cases are being referred to from the outskirts due to the lack of proper treatment in district hospitals.
Shortage of Beds
Amir Mandal has not been able to hold back his tears since he brought his 18-month-old son to Dr BC Roy Hospital in Kolkata on the night of 4 March.
The hospital authorities have been unable to shift his son, Ramiz, to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) due to a shortage of beds and have kept him in the general ward.
Amir has been watching playful videos of his son on his mobile phone, hoping and praying he survives.
"I cannot survive without him. He is my life. We have been trying since last night to arrange [an] ICU [bed] even in a government hospital but there is no availability. He is in a very critical condition and won't survive if he doesn't get timely treatment."Amir Mandal to The Quint
Several people bringing their children to the hospitals are facing the issue of a severe shortage of beds in ICUs.
The medical staff at the hospital, on the condition of anonymity, said that the situation is far worse than it looks – four children are being treated in the same bed due to the shortage.
"The children are falling ill as a minimum of four are being kept in the same bed. The virus is getting spread from one child to another, and even those who are less critical are struggling."
People also complained about the lack of support from the medical staff and their "rash behaviour."
Shamina Bibi, 50, who had come from North 24 Parganas, told FIT:
"They are behaving rudely and not allowing me to see my five-month-old granddaughter. Her condition is very critical but the hospital staff is misbehaving with me. Our world seems to be falling apart but they don't try to understand."
Skirmishes Between Hospital Staff & Patients' Families
The senior medical officials, however, claimed that they are doing their best despite facing infrastructure woes.
"We are receiving around 500 children at our outdoor unit for treatment daily, and 40-50 patients are getting admitted as against normal days, when we witness 200-300 patients and 20-30 admissions. Most of them are being referred from district hospitals and in critical condition, which is resulting in high casualties. We are trying our best to treat them though there are no approved medications or established treatment protocols for the virus."Dr Dilip Kumar Paul, Principal of Dr BC Roy Hospital
The employees at Calcutta Medical College also spoke of frequent skirmishes between the parents and the hospital staff.
A security guard, requesting anonymity, told FIT,
"There is a serious shortage of ventilators in the hospital. Patients' families are often involved in skirmishes with the medical staff, alleging poor treatment. We have to often intervene to settle the matter."
Medical Fraternity Blaming the Government
Health experts, meanwhile, are blaming the lack of governmental support for high casualties.
Dr Sajal Biswas, secretary of the Service Doctors Forum, said:
"The government seems to have learned no lesson from COVID that saw a severe shortage of beds. The doctors in the districts are referring patients even with mild symptoms to the city. It is leading to a wastage of precious time in shifting the child to the hospital. The shortage of beds is making the situation worse here, leading to high deaths. The present turmoil has exposed the lacuna in health services."
The Director of Health Services, Dr Siddhartha Niyogi, however, refused to give any figures on the death toll but said that the government is looking into it. He said:
"There are also other viruses apart from adenovirus. So, it is difficult to give the exact figures for the death toll. The government is taking all precautions and the situation is under control."
Apart from serious cases, several children with mild symptoms are also being rushed to government hospitals by parents over fears that they won't survive.
Tasmina Yasmin, 27, is one such parent. She brought her daughter to Dr BC Roy Hospital after she developed a fever.
"My six-month-old daughter, Anushka, has had a fever since last night. I have been watching on television about the spread of adenovirus in the state and how it is affecting children. I didn't want to take any risk. So, I brought her to the hospital only to find long queues for treatment. I am really worried about her."