A serious malady seems to have gripped the State Health department. It had been languishing during the two years when the ruling Congress was wracked by dissidence. Under the uninspiring and mostly invisible leadership of Dr zrul Islam after the Gogoi ministry reshuffle, the Health department appears to be in termil decline. Hospitals to primary health centers are woefully understaffed, there is a serious shortage of life-saving drugs, question marks have been raised about implementation of many Central health and immunisation schemes, while many State health schemes have practically met quiet deaths. The State government had to invoke the Essential Services Magement Act, 1980 recently in an attempt to break the strike by nearly 18 thousand doctors and health workers under the tiol Health Mission (NHM). They had to resort to agitation to press for various demands like regularisation of service, salary hike, grade pay, health insurance and provident fund benefits. The strike has brought to light the near-impossible conditions under which these contractual NHM employees are working. While regular State government health employees are not made accountable, these low-paid NHM contractual employees have to bear a huge workload, though there are no service, fincial and leave rules, no HR policies, and no criteria for deciding salaries of qualified employees at the NHM.
A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report card on the status of health services in Assam does not make pretty reading. Despite tall claims by the Tarun Gogoi government and expenditure of hundreds of crores in the last fourteen years, the State health infrastructure continues to be ramshackle. The shortfall in setting up primary health centers is 18 per cent and community health centers 34 per cent in the State. Apart from life-saving medicines, even basic medical items like syringes and bandages are in short supply in government hospitals and health centers. And the less said about filling up vacant posts, the better. If the shortage of general doctors is 76 per cent and specialist doctors 88 per cent, that of technicians is 80 per cent as well. Meanwhile, there are serious misgivings whether the government medical college and hospitals in Jorhat, Tezpur and Barpeta will come up to acceptable standards in the near future. Public outcry over the rapid spread of various diseases in the State has become all too frequent. The most recent case is the miserable failure of the State Health department in controlling the spread of Japanese encephalitis, despite the rate of incidence of the disease rising five-fold in the last few years. Meanwhile numerous patients and their attendants throughout the state are having a horrendous time. The State Health department needs a cure, badly.