Year 2015 exposed the dark undersides of Odisha's public health systems even as the State was spared of any major scare from disease outbreaks. The spate of newborn deaths at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Post Graduate Institute (Sishu Bhawan), Cuttack along with death of pregnant women in quick succession after delivering babies at VSS Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (VIMSAR), Burla presented grim realities on the deficiencies in healthcare system.
The acute infrastructural and manpower shortage in the system manifested glaringly through the year as the Government struggled to address them. The Government was forced to take some harsh measures like sacking of absentee doctors.
On the positive side, the Government launched Odisha Medical Service Corporation (OSMC) for dispensing free medicines to patients across hospitals and dispensaries. Efforts for establishment of new medical colleges to augment availability of doctors in the State also got a boost with foundation stone laid for five new colleges at district headquarters hospitals. However, the medical education sector continued to be beset with problems as attempts to rehabilitate students of the de-recognised Sardar Rajas Medical College and Research Centre, Jaring continue to be in doldrums despite High Court orders.
Here are some snapshots of the year that goes past:
2 Infant Deaths at Sishu Bhawan
More than 60 newborns and infants died at Sishu Bhawan, the only Government-run tertiary care paediatric hospital of the State, within only a fortnight in August this year not only triggering nationwide concern but also bringing focus on the miserable state of child healthcare systems.
The high casualty rate was found more due to alarming inadequacies in peripheral hospitals than the shortcomings in Sishu Bhawan. Probe committees revealed that the tertiary care centre was grossly overburdened with patients referred to it by peripheral district hospitals in extremely critical conditions where chances of survival were minimal.
It showed that the district hospitals are grossly ill-equipped to handle newborn and paediatric emergencies and critical care. Not only that, there was a tendency among doctors at lower levels to avoid risk and refer every serious case to Sishu Bhawan.
Caught on the back foot, State Health and Family Welfare Minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak announced a slew of urgent measures for complete revamp and strengthening of newborn and child healthcare systems at the grassroots even as politics played out in full steam with Opposition BJP and Congress in no mood to let go of the opportunity. From Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, politicians of all hues made a beeline to Sishu Bhawan.
"Odisha's tragedy was playing out in Sishu Bhawan," said Rahul Gandhi, which aptly surmised the state of healthcare system in Odisha.
2 Death of Pregnant Women in VIMSAR
On April 10, death of three women within hours of undergoing Caesarian section deliveries at VIMSAR, Burla, the sole Government-run tertiary care institution in Western Odisha, caused a huge stir. With allegations of medical negligence gaining prominence, the conduct of doctors and hospital authorities raised further suspicion as there was no post-mortem conducted on the deceased women.
Faced with mounting outrage, the Government instituted a DMET level probe which rejected the hospital authorities' explanation that the deaths were caused by side-effects of medicines. It held the authorities responsible for not conducting post-mortem even though the cause of deaths is still uncertain.
2 aBSENTEE Doctors Get The Sack
While the State struggles with an acute shortage of doctors at peripheral level, particularly in the backward regions, the Government was left with no other option to sack an unprecedented 408 doctors for being absent from the places of duty for long durations without authorisation. Dismissal of such a large number of doctors at one go is a first for any State.
The beleaguered Government, however, managed to appoint around 102 doctors on ad hoc basis who were posted in the much needy KBK districts. In a bid to prevent absenteeism and desertion, the Health and Family Welfare Department conducted counselling for them before confirming their appointments.
2 Free Drug scheme
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik launched the free drug distribution scheme and the implementing agency Odisha Medical services Corporation (OSMC) in April, which in its full-fledged operations, will come as a boon to patients in the State. Under the scheme, medicines and medical consumables are provided free of cost to patients across Government hospitals from the PHC to CHC level. More than 600 drugs and formulation covering a whole range of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are included in the list. The Government has already started dispensing 22 types of chemotherapy drugs to cancer patients at Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre, Cuttack.
2 Stone Laid for New Medical Colleges
The five new medical colleges at Koraput, Balangir, Puri, Balasore and Baripada, which are being established under the Central scheme, are expected to start admissions from the 2017-18 academic session. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has accorded top priority to timely construction of the colleges and has been engaging with the Centre over release of funds.
2 Protest over Rajas Medicos
The travails of students of Sardar Rajas Medical College and Research Centre (SRMCRC) at Jaring, Kalahandi are far from over despite completion of admission to VIMSAR and MKCGMCH, Berhampur and two private medical colleges following the orders of Orissa High Court. As many as 124 students were shifted to other colleges after derecognition of SRMCRC by MCI but protests continue to mount against their accommodation in the new institutions on grounds that the disparity in ranks would affect them. Students of VIMSAR have been leading protests disallowing classes to function. And now all eyes are on the Supreme Court which is to decide on the case filed by the protesting students soon.
2 Crackdown on Spurious Drugs
The Health Department has launched a crackdown on spurious and substandard drugs in the State following discovery of a fake Jaipur-based company Abhay Healthcare which supplied a wide range of medicines to Odisha market. The company was busted in November following detection of substandard medicine T-Citra, an alkaliser, being sold by the company in the market. The owner Awadesh Sharma was arrested in Jaipur following a raid. He was found to have used the fictitious company to supply substandard drugs not only to Odisha but also many other States.