Op-Ed: Odisha’s Healthcare Blues
By Ashutosh Mishra
Bhubaneswar: The visuals of Dana Majhi, a tribal from Kalahandi, carrying his wife’s body on his shoulders after failing to get a hearse are still fresh in the minds of people. That was 2016 but three years down the line nothing much seems to have changed in the state as far as health scenario is concerned. Hearses and ambulances still don’t turn up in time and there have been several cases of women being forced to give birth by the wayside and in makeshift stretchers.
In the latest instance a woman in tribal dominated Nupada district delivered a baby in a cot on which she was being carried from her hilltop village as the ambulance failed to turn up. Poor people, especially those inhabiting far-flung tribal-dominated hamlets, have been the worst victims of this kind of apathy on the part of healthcare authorities.
Apart from infrastructural deficiencies huge vacancies in government-run hospitals and healthcare centres plague the health system. If media reports are to be believed till January this year as many as 2,173 posts of assistant surgeons and 195 specialists were lying vacant in district headquarters hospitals. Similarly, there was an urgent need to fill up vacancies of 38 posts of professors, 77 posts of associate professors and 204 posts of assistant professors in medical colleges and dental college.
Absenteeism among doctors working in district hospitals and health centres has also been rampant, the phenomenon being most visible in interior areas. There have also been instances of doctors being posted in hospitals and PHCs but not turning up for duty. The government has tried almost every trick in its bag to discipline wayward doctors but success continues to elude it.
Health ministers in the past have tried to monitor the attendance of doctors in hospitals, especially hospitals located in far flung areas. There were also attempts to involve panchayati raj representatives in the exercise which, however, triggered massive resentment among the members of the medical fraternity who continued to be defiant.
Aware that private sector hospitals have been luring away doctors with hefty salaries state government also came up with financial incentives for medical practitioners serving in its hospitals. But even these incentives have failed to attract doctors to these hospitals in expected numbers.
The resultant shortfall and the urgent need to keep hospitals and health centres going made the government appoint doctors on contract, some of them well beyond their retirement age. In its latest bid to overcome the crisis the government has decided to increase the retirement age of contractual doctors from 68 to 70 years.
As things stand today of the 6719 sanctioned posts of doctors in the state 513 remain vacant but phenomenon of truancy continues to be a big worry. The health minister recently asserted that absenteeism among doctors would not be tolerated and has advised chief district medical officers (CDMOs) to initiate action in such cases. In the best interest of the state one hopes that he succeeds where his predecessors have failed.
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