Author: Saadut
•7:15 PM

It took a lot of local media reporting for the government to realize that infants were dying at Kashmir’s only pediatric hospital. This not only exposed the pathetic state of critical heath services in Kashmir but also exposed the government’s apathy and indifference towards it. After about 359 children had died in this pediatric hospital since January, did the J&K Minister for Medical Education touring the hospital on Wednesday (16th May). In spite of such a huge headcount of infant deaths, the minister is ironically reported to have termed these deaths as ‘normal’.  A few days later Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad termed the infant deaths at this hospital ‘a matter of shame’. “My ministry had sanctioned two pediatric hospitals of 200 bed capacities each for Srinagar and Jammu cities. But the State government has not been able to set up these hospitals,” The Union Minister went further to state that “Health is a state subject. It is the State government and not the Centre which is responsible for health care issues in J&K.  While I was the Chief Minister of the state (2005-2008), we had allocated 70 kanals (560 acres) of land for the pediatric hospital. Two years ago as Union health minister, I released Rs 65 crore for it. But the same could not be utilised,” Clearly health services here did not seem to be a priority for the state government.

The government claims ‘was kept in dark about GB Pant (children’s hospital) mess’ (GK 23rd May). But was it really kept in dark about the deteriorating situation there? The data about infant mortality has been constantly submitted to head government associated hospitals in Srinagar, the Principal medical College Srinagar. For 2011 the data send to Principal Medical College clearly showed that 895 infants had died in the pediatric hospital. The data pointed to consistency of numbers for particular periods in time; in March last year 104 infant deaths were recorded while in March this year 105 deaths took place, April 2011 reported 93 deaths corresponding to 85 infant deaths in April 2012. Reportedly the same data makes way to the bureaucratic offices in the health department as well as the State Health Minister. If the government already had all the relevant data why then was it maintaining silence on the pathetic state of affairs at the children’s hospital then?

Hospitals in Kashmir suffer from a chronic deficit of critical equipment and staff; in the pediatric hospital there were only three working ventilators to cater to a rush of almost 2000 patients. When too many patients have to compete for critical equipment, it’s only the extremely lucky who will survive. Actual requirements and improvements having been overlooked for long enough, such neglect came more from government apathy than staff negligence. Having said this, some senior health staff also have their share of blame for this impasse; attendants blaming staff negligence too in addition to the crumbling infrastructure. Many senior consultants have been blamed for giving more preference to their private practice than their jobs at hospitals.

In addition to the failure of the state health system, for long there have been allegations of the ‘drug mafia’ and ‘health specialists’ nexus in the state that is taking a toll on patient lives. Many doctors are reported to be on the payrolls of drug companies, often prescribing products of these lesser known brands. While this nexus seems to be thriving at the cost of the gullible patients, many ‘health specialists’ are making their fortunes.  

And as if the failing pediatric hospital in Kashmir was not any exception, health care in Kashmir is overall in ruins. Kashmir’s only Bone and Joint hospital at Barzulla resembles no more than a junk yard, devoid of any infrastructure and government attention. Lack of infrastructure coupled with neglect is such in this hospital that even a basic X ray is advised to be managed privately from outside the hospital premises. While city hospitals were still standing buildings, the new district hospitals in Kupwara and Bandipora had been midway and incomplete, presently working from overcrowded ramshackle spaces. And such a ruin of the health care system was purely because of government neglect towards it.

Facing criticism for inaction after infant deaths, the government appointed Director of SKIMS (SK Institute of Medical Sciences) to file a report on GB Panth pediatric hospital, Srinagar. Ironically another hospital under the same director was reported to be failing in infrastructure; the SKIMS hospital at Bemina was reported to be running its pediatric unit on just one ventilator and two Phototherapy machines. A media report even found that this hospital section had no MRI and CT scan machines available. The director could have done more good by improving the infrastructure of his own hospitals, before setting out to find the faults of pediatric hospital, Srinagar.

Instead of reaching out to hospitals in good faith, people seem to have lost faith in the healthcare system here. The government claiming to ‘take action against those who are either found guilty or negligent in discharging their duties’ is again seen as mere words than of action. When the State health and medical education secretary already admitted “..there has been lack of necessary equipment, staff and even lack of coordination at the administrative level in the hospital”, which other ‘negligence’ was the government searching for? Bits and pieces of reaction from the government are not going cure the diseased system. It needs a planned transformation, an overhaul. And such transformation of the health system is not to be achieved by any forced kneejerk reactions. The government needs to go back to the drawing board and chart out its priorities, to plan and implement health restructuring plans. Such practical assessment will not heal the sick healthcare but also cure the government of its own conceited complacency.

It took media outrage about the infant deaths to awaken the government, but how long before the government will not slip back into the coma of inaction? Tragically in Kashmir every government reaction is followed by a deep slumber, every governance announcement soon becomes a political rhetoric. How long before another fierce outrage is required to shake the state from its languor, a dormancy that costs innocent lives here. 





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