At least 30 children have died in 48 hours at a hospital in eastern India with local media reporting the deaths occurred when a company supplying oxygen cut off supply after a payment dispute.
Officials denied a lack of oxygen was to blame for the deaths. District Magistrate Rajiv Rautela said on Saturday the deaths of the children being treated for different ailments were caused by natural causes.
The state-run Baba Raghav Das Medical College (BRD) in Gorakhpur ran out of oxygen at 1am local time on Friday, forcing medics to use manual ventilators on patients, the Hindustan Times reported.
The newspaper said doctors made frantic calls to the supplier, Pushpa Sales, in order to restore the oxygen supply as the children started dying.
Limited supplies resumed but were quickly depleted.
BRD, which is in the state of Uttar Pradesh, had run up debts of $6.9m Indian rupees ($107,000), a sales representative at the company responsible for suppying the oxygen said.
Siddharth Nath Singh, the states’s health minister, said “those behind any kind of laxity will not be spared” but denied the children had died after being deprived of oxygen, according to the Times of India.
He warned political opponents “this is not the time to play politics”.
Parents said oxygen supply ran out Thursday night and patients’ families were given self-inflating bags to help the children breathe.
“That’s the time when the death of the children peaked,” said Mritunjaya Singh, whose seven-month-old son was admitted to the hospital and was not among the dead.
Prashant Trivedi, the state’s top health official, admitted there was a problem in the pipeline supplying oxygen.
“But the situation was managed through oxygen cylinders. The hospital administration has enough supply of cylinders in its stock. So the report about death of children because of oxygen issue is false,” Trivedi said.
The deaths and alleged circumstances surrounding the events in Gorakhpur led to an outpouring of grief and anger on Indian social media.
On his Twitter account, cricketer Indian Mohammad Kaif wrote: “Tragic to hear loss of lives of innocent children in Gorakhpur. This is unacceptable. Incompetence [is] the main reason for such tragedies.”
Another Twitter user named Nupur wrote: “No excuse for what’s happened in Gorakhpur. Heads must roll. Responsibility assigned. Arrests done. INEXCUSABLE.”
On the Indian news station Times Now, coverage of the deaths included a ticker flashing across the screen…