Malda: It's being called West Bengal's shame. Over 100 infants have died in state-run hospitals in January alone in Malda district. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also holds the health portfolio, had promised to act, but the tragedy continues.
The Malda Medical College and Hospital has inadequate infrastructure, doctors are few, and even those who are there are busy with private practices.
Malda Medical College and Hospital has cramped wards, filthy floors and three sick babies cramped per bed. Thirty-seven children have died in the hospital in the last seven days. Families of the dead infants sit dazed outside the hospital.
With a capacity of just 50 beds the hospital's paediatric ward has more than 120 children and even the doctors attending them are worried.
"Due to overcrowding there are cross infections. Different patients are suffering from different diseases as well patients parties might have sceptic. This can be more hazardous for the babies," says Malda Medical College paediatrician Dr Prabhat Majhi.
The sudden upgradation of the district hospital to a medical college while work is still in progress has led to massive over-congestion.
There are very few doctors, and the hospital has even fewer facilities.
"We came here thinking it's a medical college but we were disappointed. The required infrastructure is missing and there are no medical facilities," says a patient.
Doctors are few, and those who are there are busy with private practices.
The patient load at the hospital has grown four times in the last one year. Today this hospital takes patients from adjoining four districts and neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Bihar and some even come from Bangladesh.
With primary health care centres inadequate, hundreds of patients are referred to the Malda Medical College and Hospital.
"Last year 350 patients were admitted in the month of December. This year it has gone up to 1200," says West Bengal Principal Secretary, Health, Sanjay Mitra.
One of the babies at the hospital, Simran, is one month old. Underweight and malnourished she is fighting for her life while her helpless 17-year-old mother looks on.
The horror of crib deaths in Malda exposes the vicious cycle of child marriages in the district - the highest in West Bengal. At Hazaritola village almost every household has a child bride.
Chapati with salt is what Ayesha normally has for lunch. She is seven months pregnant and she is all of 17 years.
Another child bride Asheema was 13 years old when she was forced to marry a man she had never met. Today at 15 she is pregnant.
"What could I have done? I wanted to study but my parents forced me. I had to marry. I told my husband I don't want a child but he didn't listen. But I will not let my child suffer the same way," says Asheema.
Malda ranks lowest in health and education among all the districts in West Bengal.
The medical college is merely an indication of a district that has been ignored for too long and a message for the Mamata Banerjee government, too quick to blame the legacy of the left, that the promise of 'poriborton' (change) needs a start, maybe where it's needed the most.