Building Health

Notwithstanding the awards conferred on Jammu and Kashmir for ‘best’ health services, patient care continues to remain a casualty. The system needs a general overhaul if not a total revamp. According to official data, 3690 out of the total number of government-run health facilities in the state lack proper infrastructure and management. As per sources, around 900 posts of doctors are lying vacant. Shortage of doctors or lack of infrastructure is not the only problem. The state also faces an acute shortage of nurses to supplement the medical and technical wings.

Successive governments may have constructed buildings for health centers, sub-district hospitals, district hospitals and trauma hospitals across the state, but brick-and-mortar hulks cannot serve as hospitals without adequate manpower and equipment.  There is no point in posting a surgeon or a physician and a gynecologist in a peripheral hospital without other required support services.

As per Medical Council of India directions, there must be a nurse for every seven hospital beds, but in Jammu and Kashmir, usually an entire ward is looked after by a single nurse. On an average, 3,097 persons depend on one health facility in the state today against 2,662 in 2000. So far as the National Rural Health Mission is concerned, it has proved a non-starter here because medicos engaged under this scheme are reluctant to serve in far-flung rural areas. The results are obvious. The life expectancy of males at birth in Jammu and Kashmir is 65 against 65.8 in the rest of India, and that of females is 67 against the country’s average of 68.1.

There was a time when children would die of measles, mumps, diarrhea, and small pox. While some deadly diseases like small pox have been totally eradicated, children continue to die for other reasons. The high mortality rate at the Children’s Hospital in Srinagar had sparked off public uproar. The medical superintendent was suspended and a probe ordered into the deaths. The inquiry report cited transportation of ailing children from far-flung areas as one of the reason for the deaths. Obviously, child health facilities are lacking at the district level. And the Valley’s only such hospital, located in Srinagar, has just a handful of ventilators. The awards conferred on the state, therefore, make no sense. The government needs to realize that providing healthcare means much more than constructing buildings for hospitals.