Medical tourism and Gujarat are often considered two sides of the same coin. While it may be true for urban areas, in rural belts, the reality is far from it. Leave alone specialized treatment, even basics are in dire straits. The situation is particularly grim when it comes to obstetrics, gynaecologists and paediatricians.
Medics from city areas dread being posted in the hinterland. Not only does it mean a life full of challenges but the buzz is that doctors end up with depression because the infra is inadequate in treating the patient.
According to current statistics, 2,457 posts of auxiliary nurse midwives lie vacant across the 1,477 PHCs (primary health centres). This is in stark contrast to the numbers even in a tribal state like Chhattisgarh where the count stands at 456.
“Nearly 379 PHCs are running without doctors. In 2005, this number was at 222. In short, the health system has become sicker in 15 years. Of the prescribed provision for 1,392 specialists at state-run community health centres, nearly 1,379 remain unfilled. That is to say, across the state-run health infra system in Gujarat, there are only 13 specialists! In addition, 222 of 348 posts of radiologists, 308 postings of para chemists and 347 jobs of laboratory technicians are awaiting the government’s appointment. In the area of nursing staff too, 944 of 3,913 posts are vacant,” shared a block development officer on conditions of anonymity.
In 15 years, only one new CHC has opened, while 14 PHCs have shut down. In March 2019, there were 2,186 doctors in PHCs and a year later, the tally came down to 1490. Similarly, the number of specialist doctors at CHCs was 118, which shrunk to 23 in March 2020.
The table below makes the situation clear:
The grim numbers are responsible for the higher incidence of infant deaths in the state. With 127 MMRs (per 100,000 deliveries) and 33 (per 1,000 deliveries) EMRs, Gujarat stands 5th among 36 states and UTs when it comes to infant mortality rate.
When confronted with facts and figures, state health minister Rishikesh Patel answered: “We are in the process of filling up the vacancies. There has been a delay of two years owing to corona and the already overwhelmed medical system. Even if the block does not have an ob-gyn for delivery, expectant mothers are helped with 108 Ambulances or the Janani ambulance which brings the midwife to the villager’s home.”
However, with Assembly elections round the corner, the Opposition is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to point at the dying state of rural healthcare. According to former Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia: “There is so much unemployment in the state but the government has kept the posts vacant. All business is being driven to private hospitals in the urban centres. Gujarat is also among the five states in which malnutrition and anaemia plague women.”
On the other hand, Aam Aadmi Party’s state general secretary Manoj Sorthia held out the promise of “mohalla clinics,” adding that the BJP government has prospered at the cost of the “janta’s health.”