Out on Bail, Dr Kafeel Khan Recounts the 48 Hours Which Killed Over 60 Children in Gorakhpur BRD Medical College
Hailed as a hero by certain sections for his quick thinking during the period, Dr Kafeel Khan was arrested soon after the Gorakhpur BRD Medical College tragedy that took place on August 10 and 11 last year, following the "state government's inability to act".
Gorakhpur: Spending eight months in the overcrowded Gorakhpur Jail seems to have pushed Dr Kafeel Khan beyond the point of fear. While meeting journalists in Delhi on Wednesday evening, Dr Khan said he had been through the worst there is and therefore could not be afraid anymore.
Khan was the head of encephalitis ward on August 10 and 11 last year when over 60 children died in Gorakhpur's BRD Medical College.
Hailed as a hero by certain sections for his quick thinking during the period, Khan was arrested soon after following the "state government's inability to act". Out on bail currently, Khan said he was determined to dispel all rumours and half-truths that were being spread about him.
"Why this happened to me, only CM Yogi Adityanath can tell," said Khan. "If my suspension from BRD is removed, I am ready to serve the hospital again. If not, I will open my own medical centre for encephalitis with the help of NGOs. My clinic will be free and will not have any shortage of drugs," he added.
"I've got calls from all over the country and world but I will not leave India. I will not leave Gorakhpur," said Khan. "Encephalitis has killed thousands of children here for years and if doctors leave, thousands more will die."
Gorakhpur, for decades, has been an epicentre for acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) and Japanese encephalitis (JE), the BRD medical college is the only facility in all of eastern UP that treats encephalitis patients.
With no other functioning primary care centres, it is, as Khan said, a dumping ground. With so many patients suffering what is still a somewhat mysterious disease, it is bound to have a high mortality rate. However, that rate increased dramatically to 30 deaths a day between August 10 and 11 — the 48 hours when oxygen supply to the hospital was allegedly snapped.
Constant oxygen supply is vital in treating AES patients as the brain swells up when contacted with the disease. In those two days, children were dying by the hour due to an alleged lack of oxygen. Khan says the liquid oxygen containers ran out around 7:30 pm, about four hours later, so did the backup containers.
Dr Khan was on leave that day with proper prior permission but rushed to the hospital when he learnt of the crisis. When he and the on-duty staff of junior doctors, nurses could not get oxygen cylinders from nearby vendors or hospitals, they called from a truck from the Surakhsha Seema Bal. The truck carried 250 cylinders a day.
"The oxygen vendor had been asking about his payments for months. The reminders were only passed around from one person to another," said Khan. "I'm the junior in my department. I didn't even know that the oxygen could be shut off. I learnt this over WhatsApp."
"We could get 500 cylinders for two days," he recounted. "Later, a BJP spokesperson while speaking on a news channel questioned this saying that cylinders costs anywhere between Rs 2.5-3 Lakh. It doesn't, it costs Rs 250 to refill," he added.
Over the next 48 hours, all available staff worked without a break to save as many children they could and counsel agitated parents. There were no rewards for their efforts.
When CM Yogi Adityanath, who was participating in a rally for the BJP in Kerala, received news of the tragedy, he rushed back to his constituency. Khan says the CM visited the hospital and said to the doctor, "You think you are some hero because you got the cylinders?"
Khan was immediately ushered out of the hospitals by other staff members and told to go home, stay low and probably even flee because of the threat. Soon after, an FIR was registered and Khan surrendered to the police, who he recalled started hounding his family.
"The government opposed my bail. They claimed in court that there was no oxygen shortage and the deaths were not because of it. Later, they opposed the bail of Medical College principal Rajiv Misra claiming that the oxygen shortage was because of corruption in the hospital."
Misra and fellow heads of department are still in jail.
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