All the five districts of Garo Hills boast of civil hospitals, community health centres (CHCs), primary health care centres (PHCs), sub-centres, etc. However, a majority of the health care centres have neither specialist doctors nor adequate infrastructure. An official report indicates that there is a shortage of over 3,600 nurses and nearly 300 specialist doctors in the government run health care centres across Meghalaya, most of these posts for specialist doctors are lying vacant in Garo Hills. There is only one dedicated Child and Maternity Hospital in Garo Hills, which is located in Tura.
The most established government-run hospital in Tura is the Tura Civil Hospital in West Garo Hills, which has specialists in Orthopaedics, Surgery, Medicine, Eye, ENT, Gynecology, Anesthesia, Pediatrics, etc. The hospital though lacks basic infrastructure, not unlike many hospitals in the Northeast, but when you consider that patients are referred to here from Williamnagar Civil Hospital, Baghmara Civil Hospital, CHCs, and PHCs from across Garo Hills, the situation is alarming to say the least.
The Baghmara Civil Hospital was set up in 2010, but does not have a single specialist doctor. It lacks basic facilities like X-ray, ECG and Sonography. Also, not a single hospital in Garo Hills has a CT-scan facility. In 2006, a CT scan machine was installed at Tura Civil Hospital, which has remained non-functional till date. It is a matter of grave concern because Tura is the second most important town after the State capital Shillong.
Most patients from rural areas, who avail health care services from government institutions, face a major problem in terms of availability of medicines. There is no dearth in the purchase of medicines by the State Health Department, if one takes a look at government records. However, these medicines are dispatched to Garo Hills while they are on the verge of expiry. As a result, they are no longer useful to those most in need.
In most PHCs and CHCs, there are no available rooms or supply of water. Most buildings are old and crumbling, while some are in complete shambles. In at least 15 CHCs in Garo Hills, there are no specialists, while most of the PHCs function with a single MBBS doctor and an AYUSH doctor. In CHCs, there are five to eight doctors in each centre to cater to the needs of the patients, apart from nurses and paramedic staff. In different parts of Garo Hills, doctors face a common problem of lack of accommodation facilities within the campus, but that has not dampened their spirits or commitment to their profession.
Where are the Doctors?
Most locals, after completing their undergraduate and post-graduate courses in medical sciences, opt to work outside the State, as government salary packages are much lower than that of private clinics, coupled with poor infrastructure. Recently, the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly Speaker Abu Taheer Mondal had directed the health department to take corrective steps to ensure that people do not suffer due to shortage of professionals.
Health Minister A L Hek, when asked about shortcomings admitted that there is a need to induct nurses, specialist doctors, medical officers, health workers and paramedics. When asked about the lapses in government healthcare institutions in Garo Hills, Hek said that the government is committed to address the problems, without going into specifics. Hek assured that the department would take all possible steps to ensure that students who pursue MBBS under the State quota return back to the State.
Several citizen organizations have submitted memorandums to the government in the past two years seeking redressal of the health care facilities, though nothing much has been done. Opposition leader Donkupar Roy suggests that the state government buy medical seats in private colleges in different parts of the country to train specialist doctors and execute an Rs 1 crore bond with such doctors to tide over the crisis. Activist Samgar Sangma suggests that the government should instead offer attractive packages and facilities, so that doctors are willing to serve in far-flung areas.
In a candid remark on the ‘health scenario’, legislator Paul Lyngdoh said, ‘There is no sense of direction in the functioning of the health department at present. I believe we first need to improve the health of the department before it gets involved in the task of providing health care services to the people of the State’.
In South Garo Hills, there is no Medical Superintendent and District Medical and Health Officer (DM&HO). Ampati, a new district created in 2012 has come up with a Civil Hospital, which is set for inauguration soon. One only hopes that it would be able to induct specialist doctors.