Chennai, Sept 30: The tragic death of Karima Pradhan, a final year student of the Government Stanley Medical College (SMC), following a ''mysterious fever'', has not only sent shock waves among the medicos across Tamil Nadu, but also exposed the appalling living conditions in the hostels.
The 24-year-old house-surgeon, hailing from Uttar Pradesh, was one of the 18 hosteliers admitted to the hospital last week after they developed a ''mysterious fever''.
While 15 of them underwent treatment at the Stanley hospital and got discharged, three of them, including Pradhan, who slipped into coma, were transferred to the Corporate Apollo hospital for further treatment.
A day after Pradhan was admitted to the Stanley hospital in an unconscious stage, she was shifted to the Apollo hospital in the city where she was put on ventilator. While two other students recovered, Pradhan, an outstanding student, who secured admission in the second best Medical college in the State, through all India quota, became ''brain dead''.
After being on the life support system for three days, she died without regaining conscious, sending a sense of fear among students, staying in the hostel.
''This is outrageous...we are staying in horrible conditions in the hostel. The Government should own responsibility for the death of Pradhan'', enraging students said on condition of anonymity.
Both College Dean and State Health Minister K K S S R Ramachandran said there was no alarming conditions as feared by the students. The few students had taken ill due to some ordinary viral infection.
Even in case of Pradhan, it was only a viral fever. She had urinary infections and might have died due to ''viral encephalitis'', they argued.
Students refused to come out in open about the conditions in the hostel, fearing that they might be targetted and victimised.
''If they fail us even in one subject, we will lose six months and we do not want to take the risk'', they said.
Unhygienic conditions were not something unique in SMC located in North Chennai, known for its lack of basic amenities and infrastructure facilities. Conditions were similar in hostels of other Medical colleges in the State, including the prestigious Madras Medical College (MMC) and Kilpauk Medical College (KMC).
Students, who were staying in the MMC even looked out for private rooms during the time of University examinations as they feared that they might fall ill during exams.
In the last monsoon, the entire hostel complex in KMC was flooded and students had to wage a war against the mosquito menace.
Open drainage, heaped garbage were a common sight in the hostel complex of Madurai Medical College. ''We are taught to advice the people to lead a hygenic life, but we ourselves are living in horrible conditions. The hostel should be the most unhygenic place to live,'' the students lamented.
Frequent power cuts and inconsistency in water supply were the hallmark of Madurai Medical College hostel. During the University examinations in August, water supply was cut for three days.
''Imagine the plight of the students, who were preparing for the examinations when there was no water'', they said. Seniors fetched can waters for the first year and final year students for drinking and other basic needs.
Students falling ill and suffering from diarrhoea was common in the hostel. Even two weeks ago, a second year student fell ill and admitted to a local hospital in the temple town. As her condition became serious, she was rushed to the city, where she recovered, they added.
Coming to the rescue of the students, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), an ally of the ruling DMK, the opposition AIADMK and fledgling Desiya Murpoku Dravida Kazhagam(DMDK) blamed the Government for the poor conditions in the hostel. PMK founder leader S Ramadoss, demanded that the Governemnt should prepare a status report on the condition of students' hostels. Dr Ramadoss said the party would also undertake a study and present a report to the Government.
AIADMK Supremo J Jayalalithaa said the callous attitude of the Government had cost the life of the house-surgeon. ''If this was the pathetic situation of a Medical student, what would be the plight of common people'', she asked.
Ms Jayalalithaa claimed that the SMC was functioning without a Dean for nearly six months and the conditions in the hostel were pathetic. Drainage blocks were not cleared for months together and this led to the outbreak of diseases, she added.
The actor politician and DMDK founder Vijaykanth urged the Government to launch a cleaning operation not only in SMC and its hostel but in all medical colleges and hostels in the State.
As there were reports of more students falling ill and admitted to hospital, the Government clarified that there was no outbreak of any ''mysterious disease'' as reported in a section of the media.
After the discharge of 18 students, one nursing student and two medicos were admitted to hospital following viral fever. As a precautionary measure, they were admitted to the ICU, though they did not require intensive treatment, an official release said.
Meanwhile, State Chief Secretary L K Tripathy held a high level meeting with Health Secretary, Director of Medical Education, Deans of three Medical Colleges in the city and Director of Public Health Department and discussed the present situation.
Mr Tripathy directed them to take immediate steps to clean the premises of the three colleges and hostel blocks in the city. The cleaning operation was going on in full swing, the government said and added that there was no basis to believe there was outbreak of a mysterious disease and the public need not panic.
One thing became clear. The death of the medico and the students' falling ill certainly came as a wake up call for the Government to address these basic problems in the hostels.