A hospital in India has been accused of failing to provide enough oxygen after 60 children died on its wards in five days.
Baba Raghav Das Medical College said 34 babies died at the hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit, 12 died because of encephalitis, and the rest died of other unspecified causes.
Local media have claimed that some of the deaths were due to a shortage of oxygen which occurred after a supplier withdrew equipment as a result of unpaid bills.
Parents of at least 35 of the youngsters said that the oxygen supply to the children’s ward ran out on Thursday night.
They said patients’ families were given self-inflating bags to help the children breathe.
Mritunjaya Singh, whose seven-month-old son was at the hospital but was not among the dead, said: “That’s the time when the death of the children peaked.”
Parmatma Gautam, whose one-month-old nephew, Roshan, died, said the hospital and authorities were trying to cover up their failure to pay their bills on time.
“We saw our baby struggling to breathe and we couldn’t do anything,” Mr Gautam said.
District Magistrate Rajiv Rautela said on Saturday that the deaths of the children in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh state, were due to natural causes.
He denied that insufficient oxygen led to their deaths.
Kafeel Khan, a hospital doctor, also said the cause of death was not lack of oxygen.
Uttar Pradesh’s government has ordered an investigation and a team of federal health ministry specialists has been sent to the hospital to verify what caused the deaths.
Prashant Trivedi, the state’s top health official, admitted there has been a problem in the pipeline which supplied oxygen.
But he said it did not cause the children’s deaths as there was a sufficient number of oxygen cylinders to ensure all the youngsters could be treated.
A team of specialists from the federal health ministry was sent to the hospital on Saturday to verify what caused the deaths.
Opposition leaders blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the state, accusing it of neglect and indifference.
The opposition Congress Party’s Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter: “Deeply pained. My thoughts are with the families of the victims. BJP govt. is responsible & should punish the negligent who caused this tragedy.”
Encephalitis is common in India, especially during the monsoon season, and outbreaks often claim hundreds of lives.
India spends about 1% of GDP on public health, among the lowest in the world, and successive governments have faced criticism for not reforming the health system.