Pathology of State Apathy

Tejaswita Barua

At this moment the the topic that has aroused most heat on social media and portals and some TV channels in my state has been the untimely death of a talented budding musician at a district hospital in Majuli,said to be the largest river island in the world.Fifteen year old Tejaswita Barua,who had won the hearts of audiences with the sweetness and feistiness of her voice,was apparently a patient of hysteria,a serious but curable neuro-pathological condition.Born to a poor household she probably had not had the benefit of an effective but expensive treatment.But her seizures had been mild and she had recovered quickly enough.But this time she had one on the stage,in the middle of a song on her lips.

She had been rushed to a nearby district civil hospital,but there was no experienced physician on hand.The poor girl was under the care of an Opthalmologist who tried to manage by consulting a specialist in another place across the river on her phone.There was unfortunately no ICU in the hospital,and not even an Oxygen cylinder.It was not only the district headquarter,but right at the heart of BJP leader and former CM Sarbananda Sonowal’s constituency. Besides,being the site of some of the most influential Vaishnava monasteries in Assam,was regularly by extolled as the locus of spiritual aspiration and achievement.

Alas! it was of little help in addressing a very much mundane and physical affliction.The girl got short of breath in spite of the best efforts of the staff,and panted through her bouts of spasms and gasps,”Save my life,please save my life”.In no time the lack of Oxygen supply worsened her condition and she choked to an agonising death.Her parents,fans and the general public were shocked and then overwhelmed with grief and pity.Now people,particularly young people are raging and cursing those whom they hold guilty on social media.

This is particularly galling at a time when Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma was bawling on every particular occasion that his government had developed health-care in the state to an unprecedented level of efficiency and success in providing prompt response to lakhs of common people. On the surface it is a daunting achievement. For example the new government has established as many as seven new medical colleges in two years. There is to be an AIIMS near the capital but on the other bank of the Brahmaputra river.

No one denies the Chief Minister a flair for quick decisions,an iron will to carry them out,and grit to see them through despite roadblocks and hassles.But many of these medical colleges have only large RCC blocks of buildings,some expensive machinery and paved approach roads on show,along with a woeful lack of medical,para-medical and fourth-grade staff.There are few trained technical persons to operate the expensive machines,and many departments of vital importance in such colleges,like Cardiology or Orthopedics.So that doctors in them almost regularly refer all such cases to Guwahati Medical College.The result is the descent of a deluge of patients on doctors there serving their turn in OPDs of every department.There is a daily rush of 250 to 400 patients with various ailments to be examined and advised by harried doctors for 7 hours or more daily with a break of an hour in the middle.Thus these medical colleges are of little use but it is whispered that for construction of buildings there is a flat commission rate of 30 p.c of the cost,and for CT-Scan,MRI and other sophisticated machines the rate is higher.Hundreds of crores change hands every year,and these are not considered either as corruption or as the mouthful new term ‘money laundering’.

Connect it with the abysmal conditions at public hospitals run by government such as district civil hospitals. Lack of facilities of the most ordinary kind is the given norm and a critically ill patient admitted there will have to trust his luck rather than the hospital in getting adequate treatment.Where even an Oxygen cylinder may not be available in time.So health service is not the issue of much importance to leaders of the ruling party,it is a cover for some other business interest that does not come to light.

The situation may not be much better in Delhi.I remember an experience in Delhi AIIMS that horrified and horrified and haunted me for several years.In 2010 I decided to visit it on my own for diagnosis of some chronic ailments.From places as distant as 100 kms around the hospital mainly rural patients had come for diagnosis and treatment and crowded the space inside and out.There were patients lying prostate on bedrolls in the corridors with vacant eyes and listless expression waiting to find doctors they wanted to meet for as long as ten days.They had no clue as to how to search out and meet the doctors they needed.Under constant pressure doctors tended to be short-tempered and brusque, fourth-grade staff were even grumpier. Touts were running a brisk business among those helpless and confused folks. And all that simply because of lack of a proper health service in the rural areas around the metropolis

Coincidentally the then Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was at that time under treatment in a cabin for the privileged.I thought he must have become acutely aware of the desperate straits helpless rural folks in regions adjacent AIIMS were in.I ventured to address a letter on that to him, and it remained duly unacknowledged.The situation could not have improved much since. His recent exit from the Cogress party has little to do with such issues.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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