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Medical emergency in Manipur: 57-day blockade cripples health services

An ongoing economic blockade by United Naga Council (UNC) in Manipur, which entered its 57th day on Monday, could affect Dijen’s father and thousands of other patients in need of routine and urgent medical care.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2017 14:43 IST
Utpal Parashar
Manipur protests

A pharmacy in Imphal. An ongoing economic blockade by United Naga Council (UNC) in Manipur entered its 57th day on Monday.(HT Photo)

Dijen Singh travels 38km from his home in Manipur’s Thoubal district to Imphal every time his father Jogeshwar Singh needs to undergo dialysis. But he is worried the routine may soon grind to a halt.

An ongoing economic blockade by United Naga Council (UNC) in Manipur, which entered its 57th day on Monday, could affect Dijen’s father and thousands of other patients in need of routine and urgent medical care.

Medical supplies are running alarmingly low since the UNC took to the streets after the state government proposed the creation of several new districts for what it said was “administrative convenience”. UNC alleges non-Nagas stand to benefit at their cost from the redrawing of the district maps. Home to 33 different ethnic groups, the UNC protests in Manipur intensified and gave way to violence after the state government went ahead with its plan and announced the creation of seven new districts on December 9.

Read | Three govt offices burnt down in Manipur as protests continue

The Manipur problem
  • Two highways blocked since November 1 in protest against the Manipur government’s proposal to create two new districts — Jiribam and Sadar Hills. UNC alleges that Naga villages have been ‘appropriated’ and merged with non-Naga areas.
  • Despite opposition by the Nagas, the Congress government of Okram Ibobi Singh issued a gazette notification on December 9 announcing creation of seven new districts.
  • The Meiteis and Kukis welcomed the creation of new districts, but the Nagas intensified protests
  • Manipur goes to polls early next year. Congress hopes the move to create new districts will help it retain power
  • This is the first of the series on Manipur protests

Due to the blockade of National Highway 2 and 37 --the lifelines of Manipur-- the supply of essential medicines that reach the state through these roads has been severely affected.

Most hospitals in Imphal Valley are running short on many life-saving drugs, there is a scarcity of oxygen, and operations and other services are getting adversely affected.

“The situation is critical and unless the blockade is lifted within the next 5-7 days and supply of goods resume, we might have to stop admitting patients,” said Dr KH Palin, chairman and managing director of Shija Hospital.

Nearly 20 patients with kidney problems undergo dialysis daily at Dr Palin’s hospital, the biggest private hospital in Imphal Valley. But due to the blockade, the hospital has stock of dialysis fluid only for the next five days.

“If the patients don’t have their dialysis done on time, it could lead to renal failure. The stock of many life saving drugs like intravenous fluid, antibiotics and anesthesia is also low,” he said.

Hospitals are facing difficulties on the functional front as well. Due to scarcity of fuel, many doctors, nurses and other employees are not able to attend their duties on time.

Read | Highway blockade, note ban take the sheen off Christmas in Manipur

Patients at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal East district. (HT photo)

The blockade and the counter-blockade by those opposed to UNC’s tactics have prevented thousands of patients from the hill districts from reaching Imphal Valley to get medical attention.

There is low attendance in most hospitals. With limited supply of petrol and diesel available, doctors are worried that essential services such as operations and intensive care units (ICUs) will get affected during power cuts.

“Many vaccines like those for polio are not available. We are trying to get them by air. Same is the case with hormones needed for treating women patients,” said Dr L Shyamkumar, a child specialist at Imphal Hospital.

Drugs of several pharmaceutical companies have run out of stock and doctors are prescribing similar combination of medicines made by other companies.

Read | Creation of new districts could be game-changer in Manipur polls

“Companies are facing problems in sending medicines to Manipur since the past two months. Some are sending vaccines by air,” said Gautam Deb Nath, a Guwahati-based representative of a pharmaceutical company.

Most pharmacists in Imphal are having a tough time requesting patients to buy medicines belonging to companies other than those prescribed by their doctors.

“This is happening as some of the bigger companies have not been able to send supplies. Medicines for diabetes and psychiatric patients are running out,” said Tony Sharma of Khuyathong-based Balaji Pharmacy.

Over 700 trucks carrying essential goods, including medicines, are stranded in Jiribam, located nearly 200 km west of Imphal. On Friday security personnel moved from the state capital to escort the trucks into Imphal Valley.

Once they arrive, the supply situation is expected to ease for few weeks. Manipuris like Dijen are hoping the blockade would be lifted soon and normalcy returns to the state.

Read | Blockades are nothing new to Manipur, but this time it’s different