Business, Finance & Economics

Indian hospital fire: Dark side of medical tourism, part two


The chief minister of the state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, hods a candle as she pay her respects to the people who lost their lives in the recent fire at the Advanced Medicare And Research Institute (AMRI) hospital in Kolkata, on December 12, 2011. Nearly 90 people were killed when a fire engulfed patients at a hospital on December 9 in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, with officials accusing senior staff of abandoning those in their care.



For foreign "medical tourists" and a tiny fraction of the Indian elite, shining urban hospitals treat patients with the latest in diagnostic and surgical procedures.  Multi-room suites and platinum waiting lounges rival five star hotels, or at least European airports, for opulence.  But a recent hospital fire that killed 96 patients at Kolkata's AMRI Hospital shows just how hollow those institutions can be behind the facade, writes the Globe and Mail's Stephanie Nolen.

The "shocking truth about first world care" is as follows:

The hospital had no working sprinkler system, and no functioning smoke alarms. Staff had no fire training and many members fled when the blaze began in the early hours of the morning. Hospital management was storing diesel and other highly flammable materials in the basement – as fuel for generators, to cover for frequent power outages – as well as trash, much of which was also highly combustible, including boxes, gas cylinders, electric cable and old mattresses that released dense smoke when they went up in flames.

Shocking, yes.  But isn't it a bit unseemly that it's somehow worse because it happened at a facility for the wealthy?  A tragic fire at a crumbling government institution for the poor would be all too dog bites man for big headlines, I suppose.  But the truth is that the two kinds of institutions are hopelessly interlinked, as I wrote awhile back in "the dark side of medical tourism."

The truth is that the availability of so-called "first world" care from these elite private facilities -- even at a heavy out of pocket cost -- has allowed the Indian government to ignore the disastrous condition of the health system.