The Indian Council for Medical Research, or the ICMR, will start conducting research next year to determine the causes of death of children under five years of age in Gorakhpur and three other nearby districts of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, said ICMR Director-General Dr Soumya Swaminathan.

The council is collaborating with the international network Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance – known as the Champs Network – that gathers data on childhood mortality. The government will set up an institution in Gorakhpur by next year, Swaminathan said.

In August, a shortage of oxygen supply at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College and Hospital on August 10 and August 11. More than 60 children died at the facility between August 7 and August 11. On an average, 100 to 200 children have been dying in the hospital every month, a majority less than a month old. The hospital is the only tertiary level healthcare centre in Eastern Uttar Pradesh that caters to districts in Bihar and Nepal, as well.

The research by the ICMR will be a cohort study of an area with a population of 50,000 in four districts of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Swaminathan said.

The study will start as a pilot in January in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital where doctors and health workers from Gorakhpur will be trained. It is expected to move to Gorakhpur in six months, when the deaths at the BRD Hospital will be examined. The study will then move on to the community. The study will also include collecting tissues of the children via minimally invasive techniques.

“Since postmortem examination is not socially acceptable, we are looking to conduct a whole battery of pathology and microbiology tests that can help prove the cause of death,” the ICMR chief said, adding that the number of autopsies and biopsies conducted on children at the BRD Medical College and Hospital are negligible.

In India, the government does not have accurate causes for least 70% to 80% of the deaths in the country. The ICMR also wants to institute verbal autopsies in the country, by starting a pilot in a district each of Tamil Nadu, Assam and Odisha, where doctors and health workers will investigate each death that occurs in the districts.