Token presence

Print edition : October 16, 2015

AT the end of a metalled road cutting across a vast expanse of lush green sugarcane fields in Machra village of Uttar Pradesh stands a freshly painted two-storey building. At first sight the community health centre appears to be a useful public health facility, with a labour room, an X-ray machine, an ECG machine, and other instruments. But a conversation with an official, who did not wish to be named, revealed how the building was just a token presence for the people.

There are no technicians to operate the X-ray and ECG machines. There are no nurses on regular employment. The two nurses who work in the labour room are employed by the State government on contract. There is an operation theatre but no surgeon. “In case of a delivery where a caesarean section is required, we have to refer the patient to the district hospital even if it’s an emergency,” the doctor said. This is the only health centre in a block of about 43 villages.

What is even more alarming is that the centre has no facility to carry out a blood test of people suspected of having dengue. The centre does not have a laboratory technician. This, despite the recent outbreak of dengue in several districts of western Uttar Pradesh, including Meerut, Gautam Budh Nagar, Hapur and Baghpat.

The residents of the village say that about six persons suspected of having dengue had to go to the medical college hospital in Meerut for treatment.

The health centre is woefully ill-equipped to deal with emergency cases of dengue. “We can at the most apply a drip to a patient suffering from dengue in an emergency situation. The nearest hospital—Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Hospital in Meerut—is 17 kilometres away,” said the official.

There are seven posts for doctors in this centre, but only four are available at present as three are on leave for higher studies. These four doctors struggle to attend to the 300-odd people who come to the outpatient department every day.

The woman doctor is mostly preoccupied with deliveries. Even the posts of ward boy and sweeper are vacant. Dimple Chaudhry, a nurse on contract working in the labour room, said that her job had not been made permanent even after nine years of service. “The salary comes once in three months,” she added. There are three permanent positions for nurses in the centre that have not been filled. Recently, the staff were roped in to collate data collected for a survey of people eligible for pension under the Samajwadi Pension Yojana started by the State government. The residents of the village show distrust and a general lack of confidence in the public health system. Amit Kumar, 30, said that the centre failed to diagnose why he was having frequent bouts of fever for about two weeks. He could not get a blood test done at the centre.

Mangu Sharma, a farmer, expressed great anguish. “Sometimes there isn't even a doctor available to wrap a bandage if there’s an accident. A number of medical interns turn up from time to time, but the doctors deputed here are hardly regular.” Suman Tyagi, the village head, complained that the doctors on duty did not come to the centre regularly.

Ram Avatar, another farmer, who was also getting repeated bouts of fever about a month ago, approached the health centre but to no avail. Manju Vyash Sharma, Additional Director of Health, Meerut division, said: “As of now, there are 69 patients infected with dengue in Meerut, out of whom 47 are from the city and 22 from other districts. Patients from Baghpat, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar districts are also coming to hospitals in Meerut for treatment.”

Dr Anil Kumar of the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Hospital in Meerut said: “The village primary health care centres and community health care centres are often not equipped with pathological facilities. About 40 per cent of the patients admitted in Meerut hospitals at present are referred from other districts and villages.” Dr Sachin Kumar, who is in charge of the blood bank of the same hospital, explained the magnitude of the problem. “About 10 to 15 suspected dengue patients come to the hospital every day. In addition to this, the outpatient department of the hospital caters to about 3,500 people on a daily basis. There isn’t enough staff to deal with so many patients. The deficiency of blood-testing facilities and pathologists makes diagnosis difficult in the villages.”

Sagnik Dutta in Machra and Meerut

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