The incident of theft of a newborn from the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) not only points to the shockingly lax security in its campus, but is symptomatic of the rot setting in this once premier institution. A woman hailing from Mirza in Guwahati outskirts, had delivered a girl child last Friday and was recovering at the Obstetrics and Gyecology ward. She was befriended by another woman who then made off with the baby on Sunday. So how did this impostor get inside this GMCH ward, move around freely for three days and then sneak out with a newborn under the nose of security guards? Has the system for checking identities of patients and attendants, as well as strictly monitoring visitors within the hospital — become an absolute mockery? In a recent series of reports, this newspaper had laid bare the sheer indiscipline and chaos that has befallen GMCH, particularly after Dr zrul Islam took over as Health Minister. A minister needs thorough grasp of the workings in his department, along with a pro-active, hands-on, no-nonsense attitude that commands deference if not respect. The present Health minister has failed to assert his authority and make his presence felt. Despite being a doctor, he seems to have other preoccupations than matters relating to health. And poor people are bearing the brunt, people who have nowhere else to go but government hospitals.
The expenses in medical care and treatment are now such that only the very wealthy or well-insured can bear the burden. Even a short stay at any private hospital or nursing home is enough for a patient to realise the enormous costs of medicines, diagnostic tests and operations. Let alone the low-income class, even a middle-class patient quails at the prospect of falling ill or getting injured, for that will surely involve taking some large (and unserviceable) loan or going in for distress sale of property or liquidating some asset. How serious this problem has become can be illustrated by the heart-rending incident in September 2013 of a couple from lbari committing suicide by drowning in the Brahmaputra near Umanda with their ten-month old daughter. The child had congenital heart disease and the parents had reportedly visited GMCH several times to register her me for a government scheme under which she could be sent to Bengaluru for corrective treatment. But the frantic efforts of the parents came to nought, and uble to bear their child’s suffering, they took the fatal step. So when the poor across the State approach government health centres and hospitals for treatment, the intensity of their desperation must be understood by the powers-be in the Health department.
This understanding seems to be missing also in the GMCH authority, a hospital that is the referral institute for all other government hospitals in the State. Critical medicines are missing in the GMCH pharmacy with the constant refrain of ‘stocks nil’, diagnostic tests like CT scan and MRI come at considerable costs and take inorditely long, blood transfusion during emergencies a frustrating experience for attendants. There are all-too-frequent allegations about unscrupulous employees dressing wounds or cleaning cabins only if patients agree to pay up, surreptitiously selling off medicines prescribed in excess, and many other rackets besides. Consider this against a general backdrop of increasing squalor and lax security — and it makes up a dismaying picture of the State’s premier medical institute going into steep decline. In particular, the easy access to the GMCH campus by fixers and shady characters has become an alarming trend in recent times. Incidents of patients being duped in all sorts of ways by crooks has become all too frequent. The GMCH authority should get its act together and tighten up security and discipline promptly, or else incidents like Sunday’s child lifting will leave it with egg on its face.