In the last couple of years, the Health department in Assam has touched one low after another, and now seems to be in a bottomless free-fall. Its deterioration has been so rapid that poor people in the State now fear availing of services in government hospitals and health centres, despite having no other altertive due to the prohibitive costs of private health care. It now seems a distant memory when the Tarun Gogoi government used to extol its Health department as a success story, a bright reflection of ‘developed Assam’. The State is now witnessing incidents like a poor couple turned away from a government hospital in Bongaigaon, forced to approach a private hospital with the woman in acute labour pain, and then forced to sell off their newborn son to pay the stiff hospital bill. So what became of the much-trumpeted ‘Jani Suraksha Yoja’ under which the Tarun Gogoi government had once promised to pay stipends to women undergoing childbirth in government hospitals? Then there is the long and increasingly hopeless queue of children with holes in their hearts, waiting to be treated in rayan Hridayalay in Bengaluru under another scheme of the State government. Claiming that 75 such children died awaiting treatment during the tenure of the previous Health minister, the incumbent Dr zrul Islam has tried to pat himself on the back by asserting that only nine such afflicted children have died since he took charge 11 months back. He then went on the defensive by saying that it is not possible for the his government to send 300-400 such children outside the State to get the holes in their hearts repaired, and that “some children are bound to die, it can’t be helped”.
This is how the present Health minister measures the success of his tenure after he took over, a minister who in the past had been a doctor. No compunction, no regret, no concern whatsoever in his demeanour. These are not isolated incidents however. The way in which Gauhati Medical College and Hospital is going to seed is to be seen to be believed. There are hardly any life-saving medicines in its pharmacy to be provided free of cost to poor patients, with the Health Minister content to display a list of such medicines online! So how will patients access these medicines from cyber-space into the real world, or is the Health minister playing a sick joke? The wards in GMCH are again wallowing in filth, its kitchen and food service back to the slovenliness of old, the security in its campus almost non-existent. There are serious allegations of all kinds of rackets now flourishing in GMCH to fleece poor patients. Diagnostic tests in the hospital now come at considerable expense, while the reports take inorditely long. If this is the situation in GMCH, the conditions in other government hospitals and health centres across the State can well be imagined. There is little sign of the health infrastructure purportedly built up with thousands of crores of rupees under the tiol Health Mission. Paradoxically, the State government talks of building up Guwahati as a health tourism destition in eastern India. A Central team inspected the proposed site at Garmari near Guwahati last April for setting up an AIIMS-like institution announced in the Union budget. Healthcare major Apollo Hospitals Enterprise recently acquired 51 per cent stake in Intertiol Hospital under Assam Hospitals in Guwahati to strengthen its presence in the Northeastern region. The Swagat Super Speciality Surgical Institute (SSSSI) has also set up a multi-surgical centre in Guwahati. But most such health care is in the private sector, and comes at a steep cost. Then where will the legions of poor patients go for treatment? Besides, flourishing private health services can be built up only on the bedrock of efficient and affordable public health services. This the Tarun Gogoi government is miserably failing to provide.