Komal Dev District Hospital, in the Naxal-hit Kanker district of Chhattisgarh, which mostly caters for the rural population in the southern part of the state, is plagued by a shortage of doctors and nurses, beds, food and drinking water.
Amid the scorching heat, the OPD is flooded due to the lack of staff and some of the sick patients are treated in makeshift beds in the corridor. “Unable to see my brother in pain, I requested a nurse to start the treatment immediately due to the lack of beds. She arranged a makeshift bed in the corridor and attached a saline bottle beside the ward for patients,” said Hari Mandavi (38), a native of Kirgoli village who hospitalised his younger brother after a bout of intense stomach pain.
Hari Mandavi’s younger brother under treatment in the corridor.
Several patients face the same problems or even worse. Shyam Mandavi, 60, had to wait for her leg surgery for a week due to the doctor’s absence.
Seven-year-old Phuli with her parents.
Seven-year-old Phuli, who reportedly fell unconscious after a prolonged fever, was seen being carried by her mother and father Hira Lal holding the saline bottle due to the shortage of stretchers to a doctor referred by the OPD. Lal had travelled all the way from Ambora village, 50 km away from Kanker, only to wait for hours at the hospital to get a bed for Phuli.
Situated between the cities Raipur and Jagdalpur, Kanker is a predominantly tribal and densely forested region. The 230-bed hospital caters to a population of approximately 6 lakh with 300-350 patients who mostly have fever, dysentery or are vomiting.
Ahim Sori, a former public representative from Chiprail village who is undergoing treatment for his leg injury since May 11, blasted the hospital management for keeping patients “without” food and water. “There was no food and water for two consecutive days. The facilities were restored after the patients protested with senior officials. It is sheer mockery of the common man by the health department in the name of treatment,” he said.
Water deficiency continued for days as the digging of a borewell was stopped midway without a back-up source of water. Consequently, the food supply also stopped due to water scarcity.
District chief medical and health officer Dr JL Uayke admitted that the shortage of drinking water was “caused by the halt in the digging of the borewell, which affected the food services but things were in order within a day”.
Another big problem plaguing the hospital is the shortage of staff. The working staff count includes 12 doctors and 24 nurses but their periodic absence has compounded the woes of patients. The operation theatre cannot cater for serious patients, who are referred to Raipur. CT-Scan, Echocardiography and MRI machines are out of order. Only medicines and blood tests for seasonal diseases are available.
As per Ajay Motwani, who heads Kanker-based Jan Sahyog Sansthan, patients from far-flung villages continue to suffer due to the lack of quality health services and the hospital largely remains a referral centre.
However, hospital chief Sunita Meshram claimed that the number of patients has increased due to extreme weather conditions. In such a situation, she said, the shortage of beds was inevitable but “arrangements were made without delay”.
Government Medical College (GMC), Kanker, was established in March 2020 to provide medical education and the best healthcare facilities to the people of the Bastar division and neighbouring districts in association with the district hospital.
Pinning hopes on the association of the medical college with the hospital, Uayke said, “The collaboration with GMC would help the district hospital’s performance. In a span of a few months, the hospital would have an MRI machine, a 30-bed ICU and 40-bed neonatal care unit.”
While patients continue to suffer, Chhattisgarh health minister TS Deo Singh in a meeting with health officials of north Bastar on May 6 directed them to increase COVID-19 testing, and review the ‘Haat Bazaar’ clinic scheme (especially for the rural population) and provide good services to Kanker.
Last year, as per a local news report, the rural health centres were paralysed due to the absence of the required number of staff. The district comprises 8 Community Health Centres and 34 Primary Health Centres out of which 12 had no lab technicians, which halted diagnosis of diseases like malaria, typhoid, sickle cell anaemia, diabetes, HIV, Hepatitis-B, etc.
The writer is a freelance journalist.