The Punjab health department on Sunday refuted reports of a number of infants dying at the District Headquarters Teaching Hospital Sahiwal due to malfunctioning air conditioning in the children's ward.
Punjab Additional Secretary Health Rafaqat Ali after a preliminary inquiry had confirmed earlier in the day that eight children had died at the facility in a span of 24 hours, but he had said that an inquiry would be held to determine the facts because five children had died at the facility "while the AC was functioning normally".
In a statement issued in the evening, a spokesperson for the Punjab health ministry refuted the claims that five children had died at DHQ Sahiwal due to an out-of-order AC and negligence of the administration.
According to the handout, an inquiry committee headed by the additional secretary health was sent to Sahiwal after reports regarding the infants' deaths started doing rounds.
The inquiry committee after investigating the incident submitted its preliminary report to Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmeen Rashid, the spokesperson said.
They said according to the report, the number of children who died at DHQ Sahiwal is three, and not five; of the three, two of the infants were shifted to the emergency department of DHQ Sahiwal from a private hospital in a "very serious condition" and it was there that they died. The third child, who was being treated at the hospital from earlier, died after his condition worsened a day ago.
"It is baseless to claim that the children died due to the AC not functioning," the health ministry spokesperson said, adding that further investigation of the incident is underway.
Earlier, taking notice of the reported deaths, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had tweeted that he had ordered that "strict action" be taken against persons responsible for the negligence following an investigation.
"Incidents like this are unacceptable in any situation," he wrote, adding that the Punjab government's sympathies were with the loved ones of the deceased children.
Deputy commissioner's account
Sahiwal Deputy Commissioner (DC) Zaman Wattoo had recounted the chain of events allegedly leading to the infants' deaths in a letter written to the secretary of the Punjab government's Specialised Healthcare & Medical Education Department.
He said he had received a "frantic call" at around 12:40am on Sunday from an attendant of a patient informing him that infants had started dying due to non-functioning of air-conditioning system in the paediatric ward of DHQ Hospital Sahiwal.
"I hurriedly reached the ward and found the air-conditioning system out of order which had resulted in abnormal indoor temperature," he wrote, adding that the ward in-charge, Dr Sohaib, informed him that three infants had died due to "medical causes". The medical superintendent of the hospital, Shahid Nazeer, also maintained that only three newborns had died at the hospital.
"Though three deaths have been officially reported, the possibility of unreported deaths cannot be ruled out," the DC warned.
He said he had one air-conditioning unit transferred from the MS office to the ward in view of the high temperature.
"It has been learnt that the AC system of the ward has not been functioning well for the last many days," Wattoo wrote.
"One is appalled at the insensitivity of the administration of the hospital towards the sufferings of the patients. The ACs of empty classrooms were running whereas the infants were crying in high temperature."
The DC in his letter recommended that biomedical engineer Luqman Tabish be suspended "for his failure to fix the AC issues" and an inquiry be ordered to fix responsibility on the hospital administration.