The city government in India's capital is threatening to cancel the licences of private hospitals over allegations by distraught families that they turned away dying children during a lethal outbreak of dengue fever.
The worst outbreak in five years of the mosquito-borne disease, for which no vaccine exists, has exposed inadequate public health measures to combat it and overwhelmed both government and private hospitals.
Authorities have ordered surprise inspections at private hospitals to ensure they comply with last month's order not to turn away dengue patients. Doctors' leave has been cancelled to help cope with the influx of sick people.
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The measures were ordered after reports two children died after being denied treatment at prominent city hospitals.
"It is heartbreaking," said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. "We have become blind in the race to make more and more profit. We shouldn't forget our humanity."
A six-year-old boy died after allegedly being turned away by five hospitals, his family has said, including one owned by Max India Ltd, one of the country's largest healthcare providers. A spokesman for Max did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At the weekend, the parents of a seven-year-old boy jumped from a four-storey building in south Delhi, after their only child died of dengue. The couple left a one-page suicide note saying his death had prompted them to end their lives.
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The boy's medical reports showed he was referred to five prominent private hospitals in the capital. He was eventually admitted to another private hospital, but died soon after.
More than 1,800 dengue cases have been recorded in the city this year - the highest number since 2010, when more than 6,000 were reported. Doctors say the actual number may be much higher, as many go unreported.
In the past, Delhi's private hospitals have been accused of refusing free treatment to poor patients - a condition they must agree to, in return for getting land at cheap rates.
Dengue is common in India and the number of cases generally peaks in October, after the end of the monsoon rains.
Symptoms include a sudden fever, headache, muscle and joint pains. The disease is also known as "break-bone fever" for the intense pain victims can suffer.
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