The collective conscience of the country was shaken last year when hundreds of infants died due to shortage of oxygen supply in Baba Raghav Das Medical College, Gorakhpur, in Uttar Pradesh. But a far more harrowing tragedy is silently unfolding in Madhya Pradesh, where shortage of medical staff, especially doctors, has claimed the lives of as many as 72,000 infants in government hospitals over the last nine years.
As per the National Health Mission data submitted to the state assembly, as many as 72,000 infants died in Special Newborn Care Units (SNCUs) of government hospitals across the state between 2009 and 2017.
Reacting on the issue, Public and Family Welfare Minister of the state Rustam Singh said, “Consistent efforts are being made by the state government to improve the healthcare services for the residents. Plans are being chalked out to reduce the infant mortality rate. Doctors have been deputed to other departments out of necessity, but soon they will be transferred to their original duties”
As of March 2017, the state has only 4,367 doctors against the sanctioned strength of 8,156 government doctors. This means that 47% of the sanctioned posts are vacant. These include posts in district and sub-district hospitals and primary and community health centres. Moreover, hundreds of these doctors work as babus, manning several administrative posts in various departments of the state, instead of working in the hospitals.
As many as 277 senior doctors of the state government are working in administrative capacity in different departments of the state government and, this at a time, when the state is grappling with a huge shortage of doctors which has resulted in deaths of 72,000 newborns between 2009 and 2017 in Special Newborn Care Units (SNCUs) of the government hospitals in the state.
Things do not end here only. What is worsening the already grim situation is another saddening fact that almost 50 government doctors are currently absent from their duties for a relatively longer duration.
The situation is even grimmer vis-a-vis specialists. Of the total 3,273 sanctioned post of specialist doctors (surgeons, paediatricians, obstetricians), only 1,126 are filled, which means that around 66% of these posts are yet to be filled.
Replying to a question of Congress legislator Jitu Patwari in the Assembly this year, the Public Health and Family Welfare department conceded, "The progress in reducing the infant mortality rate in the state is not satisfactory."
The high rate of deaths of newborns, coupled with serious crunch of doctors, puts a big question mark on the state government's claims of having improved the health infrastructure. Despite this, the government is set to open seven new medical colleges in the state. From where it will get doctors to man these colleges is anybody's guess.
The state government, in 2017, had applied to Union Health Ministry seeking permission for giving admissions for 800 new seats in MBBS course in seven new government medical colleges for the academic session 2018-19. These colleges are to be opened in Ratlam, Vidisha, Chhindwara, Shivpuri, Datia, Khandwa and Shandol.
Experts say to run these colleges, the government requires at least 1,200 doctors. As per the rules of Medical Council of India, only doctors with a minimum experience of four years can teach.
Reacting on the issue, Public and Family Welfare Minister of the state Rustam Singh said, “Consistent efforts are being made by the state government to improve the healthcare services for the residents. Plans are being chalked out to reduce the infant mortality rate. Doctors have been deputed to other departments out of necessity, but soon they will be transferred to their original duties.”