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Ungrievable lives?

No death is ungrievable. A baby’s more so. But in our case, the grieving is confined to the family and traditional norms used to normalise the loss of life.

Rarely do we see parents and family members question the hospital authorities. Holding health workers accountable for negligence and death is as uncommon.

For the second time, several lives have been lost at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the national referral hospital. According to health officials, deaths are a norm at the NICU, more so for babies born preterm. The recent deaths of eight babies and about nine or 11 last year alarmed everyone, except politicians and health workers.

No one was held accountable then even though the hospital’s weaknesses were revealed. Today, the conditions of the babies are cited as the causes of their deaths. Somehow, the concerns parents raised of poor hand hygiene, absence of neonatologists, rudeness of health workers and trainees handling the infants do not even matter.

Allowing trainees, nurses and resident doctors to handle infants at NICU without supervision is not healthy practice. Their presence in hospitals and ICUs should be to assure anxious parents that their children are in safe hands. Today, their presence creates fear among parents. This shows that public confidence in our health system and health workers, which is already shaken has today plummeted.

In other places, heads of organisations take the moral responsibility when such incidents occur and step down. In our case, they hold the dead babies responsible while defending and challenging aggrieved parents to lodge complaints, not with the media but with the authority concerned. Besides being over worked and underpaid, the recent tragedy shows that our health workers are sorely deficient in empathy.

The government has said that an independent team will investigate into the deaths and make public the findings. A meeting with the aggrieved parents would also help the team and the government make informed decisions. There is a critical need to allay the fear and frustration among the public and parents who have lost their new-borns. Meeting hospital officials alone is not enough to get the whole story.

Health professionals, who are aware of the problems plaguing the heath sector, are today at the helm of governance. It is time for the government that promised change to change the norms they had diagnosed as malignant in the health sector.

When the issue concerns our children and when we have lost one too many lives, we cannot remain complacent anymore. Our children, whether born pre or full term deserve better.

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