As the economic blockade in Manipur continues for over 70 days now, the state is raising a helpless wail. Seriously ill patients are being turned away from hospitals, which are battling a shortage of life-saving drugs, and many are losing their lives.
"It's a pitiable situation. As a doctor I feel helpless that I can't help...and have had to turn away many critically ill patients from my hospital just because there is a scarcity of life-saving drugs and oxygen because of the blockade," Dr KH Phalin, managing director of Shija hospital in Manipur, told IANS.
According to Phalin, ever since the blockade began on Aug 1, the price of an oxygen cylinder has gone up by four-five times.
"Manipur does not have a medical gas plant of its own and is dependent on Assam. Therefore, because of the blockade, the supply of oxygen is affected. A cylinder that normally costs Rs 320 in Assam, costs Rs 1,100 here (from local suppliers) and at one time, went up to Rs 2,400," said Phalin, who is a surgeon and runs the state's biggest private hospital.
The hospital, like many others, also sends its own vehicle to get oxygen cylinders and other supplies from Guwahati in Assam, but has to "pay up to some local groups", who, according to him, charge up to Rs 5,000 to let their vehicle go.
"In two weeks, we have had to reject at least 10 critically ill patients because we are running low on life-saving drugs and are in no position to take their responsibility. Moreover, we cannot take a risk with our own patients in the ICU and those on ventilator who require 15 cylinders every day," he added.
"There are cases of people losing their lives for lack of timely treatment and life-saving drugs," Phalin said.
Mandira Singha's is one such case. The 22-year-old lost her father to the blockade on Sep 12.
"The hospital that my father was admitted in said that they don't have the necessary supply of the drugs that was required to treat him. He was critical, we couldn't even think of shifting him to Guwahati...so I asked a friend, who was coming from Kolkata, to get the medicine," Singha said.
"But by the time he reached, it was too late and my father was gone....," she sobbed.
Activist Madhu Chandra had a similar tale. "I lost my friend on Sep 6. He died because the hospital he was being treated in ran out of oxygen."
"Another family I know lost their son when he drowned in the river. He was working as a helper in a truck and as all the trucks were stalled on the highway because of the blockade, he had gone to take a bath in the river...his poor parents had to pay Rs 15,000 to get his body, when normally it would have cost Rs.5,000, but the extra charge was because of the high fuel price," he added.
According to doctors, besides medicines and oxygen, there has been a shortage of medical equipment as well.
Naba Chandra, a doctor in a private hospital, said: "We need equipment to conduct angiography and other procedures; we need equipment for the blood bank but all of that has been lying in the border for two months now."
"There is also a shortage of IV drip and normal saline," he added.
Whatever can be brought from nearby states, like Nagaland or Assam, are being arranged by the hospitals at their own cost. But the impact has been on the medical bills of the patients, which has shot up.
"Unfortunately, it's the common man of Manipur who is the worst affected. With hospitals spending more on oxygen, ambulance service (price of fuel has shot up) and generator during power cuts (again dependent on fuel), patients have had to bear the extra cost," Phalin said.
Naba Chandra added: "Left with no choice, a number of people are going to Guwahati for treatment. I know of people who are even selling their properties to be able to give proper treatment to their loved ones outside the state."
The economic blockade called by the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC) Aug 1 and a counter blockade called later by the United Naga Council have crippled normal life in Manipur, making prices of household commodities soar and resulting in acute scarcities, including of life-saving drugs.
"I hope the centre does something concrete, and urgently, to get us out of this situation. Otherwise Manipur will continue to bleed silently," Phalin said.