NEW DELHI: Recently, a four-month-old infant who urgently required surgery for a hole in her heart was brought to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, only to be allocated a slot five years later, in 2023.
"I am a poor man and I don’t have money to afford a cardiac surgery in a private hospital, but now I am helpless. To save my life (his daughter) I need to turn to some other hospital even if I need to borrow money," sobbed the girl's father Ram Kishore, who’s from Bageshwar district in Uttarakhand.
Apart from highlighting the incredible overload at the country’s premier medical institution, the fact that Kishore chose AIIMS Delhi, instead of the new one in Rishikesh much closer to his home, underlines another disturbing fact: none of the six new AIIMS across the country inspire confidence among the people they are meant to serve.
Conceding that the six new hospitals- first conceived in 2006 -- have failed to ease the pressure on the one in Delhi, a senior official in the Union health and family welfare ministry that Delhi blamed acute faculty shortage, resource crunch and infrastructural deficiencies for the problem. "After setting up of six regional AIIMS at Patna, Bhopal, Raipur, Jodhpur, Rishikesh and Bhubhaneshwar, the government had hoped those needing super-specialist health care would benefit from these centres, however that has not been the case," the official said.
"There are two reasons: one, not even one of the new AIIMS have even half of the 305 faculty strength, and the pace of providing proper infrastructure, supporting staff and required equipment has been too slow," remarked a senior doctor at AIIMS, Rishikesh.
Earlier this year, while announcing setting up of 13 more AIIMS, including two at Jammu and Kashmir and one each at Gorakhpur, Assam and Bhatinda, health minister J P Nadda had admitted in the Lok Sabha that the new hospitals have remained poor cousins of AIIMS, Delhi, which gets thousands of patients every day even from states where a new AIIMS has been opened.
Public health specialists believe this pathetic state of affairs is mostly due to faulty health policies adopted by successive governments.
"Instead of strengthening primary and secondary care health facilities the governments have been announcing tertiary care centres but they should realise that it's not easy to build institutions like AIIMS, Delhi overnight," said Oommen John, a senior research fellow and internal medicine specialist at The George Institute For Global Health. "For instance, can our politicians go to other AIIMS like institutions for organ-transplants?" he asked, hinting at finance minister Arun Jaitley's recent kidney transplant at AIIMS, Delhi.
Anant Bhan, a researcher in global health, said that merely calling an institute as "AIIMS" did not guarantee that it would be regarded in the same light as the one in Delhi. "AIIMS, Delhi over the decades has earned a name for itself due to quality and affordability, but the newer centres have challenges that need to be overcome," he stressed.