Sad but not unfamiliar
A LARGE number of stillborn babies are disowned by their parents, discarded in hospitals and buried in unidentified graves, so says a report published in New Age on Thursday. According to the report, in the past six months, at least 144 stillborn babies were sent to the voluntary organisation Anjuman Mufidul Islam from Dhaka Medical College Hospital alone; between July 2012 and June 2013, the organisation buried 316 such babies. It would be too simplistic to condemn people who disown their stillborn babies, discard them in hospitals, and thus deny them of ‘the privilege to be buried with dignity and identification.’ There is no reason to assume that they are some heartless creatures. In many cases, the motive behind such apparently cruel acts is purely emotional. For example, in the case of Liton Gazi, whose wife died after giving birth to a stillborn baby, it was a way of trying to preserve the ‘hundreds of affectionate memories’ of her. There was economic compulsion as well; he ‘had no money to carry him [the baby] to the village’ and arrange for his burial. Then, of course, as pointed out by the head of obstetrics and gynaecology department of the hospital, there are social taboos, particularly in the case of pregnancies outside marriage. Given the fact that patients of the hospital are predominantly from the lower strata of society, it is highly likely that many parents leave behind the stillborn babies for fear of social stigma.
The large number of stillborn babies speaks not only of personal losses but also a general lack of proper care for pregnant women in the poor and marginalised sections of society. It is safe to assume that, in most of the cases, the pregnant women came to hospital only after the situation had turned critical for both the mothers and the babies, which only provides a poignant reminder that, while child mortality in Bangladesh has come down remarkably over the years, it may still be appallingly high in certain sections of society. The reason for such high prevalence appears to range from lack of access or inadequate access to healthcare facilities to general lack of awareness of, if not apathy to, the need for extra care for pregnant women in the lower strata of society. The relevant authorities certainly need to take note of it and act accordingly.
What is disturbing about the episode is the clear lack of communication and coordination within Dhaka Medical College Hospital, which, despite its many limitations, remains the premier public hospital in Bangladesh. For example, the head of the obstetrics and gynaecology is quoted as saying that ‘in every case, we request the parents to take the stillborn babies’ and that, when such requests are ignored, ‘we have to hand over the unclaimed babies to Anjuman Mufidul Islam for burial.’ However, the DMCH director was unaware of the unclaimed burial of stillborn babies.
Be that as it may, the DMCH director did assure that the hospital would take action to prevent its recurrence and provide financial assistance to poor parents. One hopes that the hospital would follow up on the assurance.
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