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Lack of healthcare facilities in state irks High Court

The High Court of Meghalaya on Wednesday slammed the state government over the lack of improvement in healthcare facilities in the state despite its repeated prodding.

The court said there has been no commensurate or perceptible improvement in the basic healthcare facilities over the past six years since it started hearing a PIL on perceived inadequacies and deficiencies in the health services.

Senior advocate SP Mahanta, appearing in person, submitted that although the present matter has been pending since 2016, very little was done on the ground to improve the healthcare facilities in the state.

On behalf of Amicus Curiae, it was submitted that adequate numbers of personnel have not been deployed in the primary health centres.

One of the aspects pointed out on behalf of persons appearing to ensure augmentation of facilities is the lack of oxygen in even civil hospitals across the state. It was submitted that even in the few places where there are dedicated neonatal units, there may not be any oxygen connection to such units for the most basic care to be administered to new-born babies.

“Another area of concern is the complete lack of facilities in the State to treat cancer. Though a token unit has now been set up at the Civil Hospital in Shillong with a limited number of beds and the same is scheduled to be inaugurated in the next month, there does not appear to be any adequate equipment to deal with the deadly malaise. At the same time, the incidence of oral cancer in the State is about the highest in the country, particularly in the western areas where betel-nut chewing is common and rampant,” the court said in its order.

According to the court, even if screening mechanisms have been put in place which the State said, it is doubtful that screening is a remedy. At any rate, even if this screening mechanism leads to early detection of cancer, the State has no amenities to offer to the citizens after detection of cancer, the court said.

“At the very least, it would have been expected that the State would have tie-ups pertaining to different geographical regions with the nearest cancer facilities outside the State; but there is no thinking on such lines. It may even be possible to indicate one or two plots of land that would be accessible to most in the State where private operators may be invited to open cancer hospitals on such conditions that would be feasible to both the State and the private parties. Again, there is no attempt on the part of the State to address the issue,” the court said.

A “childish” submission is made that the State is taking measures to educate the residents and to ensure that the bad habit of chewing betelnuts is arrested, the court said.

It further said even if an aggressive campaign in this regard were in place, experience in other areas as in tobacco would reveal that decades and centuries of attempts yield very little result.

“At the end of the day, awareness programmes or screening mechanisms are no substitute for actual facilities being put in place. Unfortunately, the State has been singularly lacking in indicating any step in the right direction in such regard. It is possible that the long gestation gap between mooting the setting up of speciality hospitals and the same being operational would outlive the normal tenure of any assembly,” the order said.

The court said it also does not appear that any attempt has been made by the State to seek the Centre’s assistance in this regard. It said there are centrally-run cancer research institutes and a bit of enterprise and effort may result in central units being set up locally to address the issue.

“There is no doubt that adequate healthcare facilities cost money. It is also not in doubt that the State’s revenue at the moment may not permit an ambitious outlay for healthcare. But there is a minimum expectation that the citizens have from the State and basic healthcare cannot be neglected on the ground of lack of funds or resources. The Court can only make an appeal to the State but, ultimately, it is for the administration to do the needful,” the court added. The Shillong Times

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