The Indian government has suspended the head of the hospital which cut off the oxygen supply to dozens of children leading to the death of over 60.
The government of Uttar Pradesh state, run by India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, suspended the head of the state-run BRD Medical College, Rajeev Misra, late on Saturday and ordered an investigation.
BRD Medical College disclosed that 34 babies died in the neonatal intensive care unit, while 12 deaths were attributed to encephalitis — which claims hundreds of lives yearly. The other deaths, BRD said, were from unspecified causes.
Hospital records show that the death toll increased significantly on Thursday, with 23 fatalities — including 14 babies at the neo-natal unit.
State Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh announced four additional deaths later on Saturday, taking the toll to 64.
JP Nadda, the health minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet, along with the state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, visited the hospital in the town of Gorakhpur, 507 miles east of Delhi.
“We will know whether it was because of an oxygen shortage or due to a lack of proper treatment,” Adityanath told the reporters. “Those found guilty will not be spared.”
The case has caused nationwide outrage with protesters marching barefoot Saturday in the heart of India's capital to call out government negligence.
The protesters demanded the resignation of Sidharth Nath Singh, Uttar Pradesh's health minister, compensation for each of the families who lost a child and a probe into the deaths.
The hospital meanwhile has denied the deaths were related to reduced oxygen. In a statement, hospital authorities admitted that there had been a "drop in pressure in the supply of liquid oxygen" but reassured that cylinders were acquired from other suppliers to address the problem.
Media reports have challenged the hospital's statement, alleging that the oxygen shortage happened after a private supplier withdrew its equipment because of unpaid bills.
The deaths have prompted opposition politicians to assign responsibility to Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party. "The current government is responsible for the deaths of children in Gorakhpur due to the lack of oxygen. Strict action should be taken," tweeted former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.
The Gorakhpur district is represented by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
In several TV appearances, government officials have criticized opposition leaders for attempting to politicizing the issue.
The case has put a spotlight on India's decaying health care system, which is plagued by doctor shortages and rundown infrastructure.
The government figures studied by the nonprofit Brookings India reveal there is a 26 percent shortage in the district's primary health centers.
India currently spends about 1 percent of its GDP on public health, among the lowest in the world.