The general ward at the government medical college and hospital in Latur is teeming with patients, mostly suffering from a host of gastrointestinal ailments.
Shaikh Zameer, a middle-aged businessman from Ausa Tehsil, 60km from Latur city, lies on a bed in one corner of the ward. The awful stench inside the large hall has forced his wife and children into the corridor outside, even as doctors and nursing staff go about doing their work diligently, surgical masks on.
Zameer, who runs a grocery shop, would have preferred to be treated at a cleaner private hospital for his abdominal pain. He has already spent Rs 90,000 on tests at private facilities.
However, with many private hospitals in the district’s interior areas shutting down and the remaining effecting a steep hike in costs owing to water scarcity, Zameer, like many others, cannot afford the treatment.
“I never went to a government hospital earlier. But I can’t afford the treatment at private hospitals,” says the father of four, though he has no complaints about the care and treatment at the government hospital.
Latur city in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region is battling the worst drought ever and can barely manage to meet the drinking water needs of its five lakh residents, with just about 1% storage water remaining in the reservoirs.
As a result, the hospital, like other healthcare facilities, is under stress to manage affairs. “We are witnessing an unprecedented rush as some water is still available here,” says Dr Ashok Shinde, dean of the hospital.
Despite the rush, the hospital is handling the situation with just about 55% of its regular requirement of 1.9 lakh litres of water. “We are getting a supply of around 40,000 litres by municipality tankers. Another 60,000 litres is collected from campus bore wells and contributions from charitable bodies,” Shinde says.
The influx can be gauged from the fact that 100 extra floor beds have been laid out in addition to the 550 beds in the general ward, while the outpatient department (OPD) is flooded with 1500-1600 patients, as against the daily inflow of 1000.
Last month, all operations were suspended and the ICU shut down for a day in the government medical college after municipality water supply stopped for 15 days in a row.
“Since then, nothing has really been put on hold as we are getting water. However, with the reserves fast depleting, we don’t know what the future holds. Without adequate water, it’s not possible to conduct operations or run the ICUs,” Shinde says.
By heavily rationing supply to the medical college hostels that houses 1150 students and families of more than 865 teaching and nursing staff, the hospital has been able to pull through so far.
“We have not compromised on emergency and critical care cases,” said Mangala Shinde, chief gynaecologist at the hospital.
“The 15-bed intensive care unit is fully operational and emergency operations are being performed regularly in the 11 operation theatres,” she says, adding that 30-40 deliveries are taking place at the hospital regularly, of which 10 are caesarian.
However, a senior surgeon at the hospital claims that many critical cases are now being referred to other cashless government hospitals in the city because the hospital is buckling under pressure. He claims the number of caesarian cases has witnessed a sharp rise owing to low haemoglobin count in mothers.
“This can be directly linked to the lack of nutrition on account of drought and the resultant food scarcity.”
Dismissing the claims, however, Shinde said, “Low haemoglobin levels have been a perennial problem with mothers all over India.”
The hospital administration admits a shortage of water has taken its toll on the hygiene, especially the hospital’s linen, wards and toilets.
“Our priority is to keep the ICUs and operation theatres (OTs) clean, the rest can be managed,” Shinde says, adding he has to manage his house with 500 litres delivered by the municipality tanker once a week.
The Centre on Tuesday sent a special train carrying around five lakh litres of water for the city with a second train of similar capacity expected around April 15. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also offered 10 lakh litres of water to Latur per day for two months.