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Not what the doctor ordered

mumbai Updated: Sep 28, 2009 01:48 IST
Debasish Panigrahi
Debasish Panigrahi
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Two babies have been successfully delivered at the Tadgaon Public Health Unit in the last three months.

Poli, who is breastfeeding, still lives at the health centre with her proud mother. In the distance she sees Manni, born almost at the same time as her, and hops off to join her.

For Poli and Manni, a kid and a piglet respectively, the health centre has been their home since they were born here.

In fact, you could even call it their ancestral home — members of their clan have lived here for generations.

For 10 years, this primary health centre about 170 km from the district headquarters of Gadchiroli (and 1,300 km east of Mumbai) has been in a state of disuse and disrepair. A rusting lock seals the collapsible gate of the four-bed unit.

“You can see it all for yourself,” says A.P. Mungelwar (48), a pharmacist who lives in the adjacent staff quarters.

“Since I joined in mid-2001, I don’t remember any doctor staying for more than a week.”

For nearly a decade, Mungelwar has been family physician to the 8,000-odd Gond tribals who live in the eight villages of the Tadgaon gram panchayat.

On paper, the health centre has a doctor, a nurse and an attendant.

“She lives in Nagpur or Gadchiroli,” Mungelwar chuckles, pointing to the locked quarters of Dr. S.N. Junagare.
Locals say they have seen the doctor just twice in the last six months.

The nurse and attendant live here but can do no work. Medicines and surgical supplies keep arriving, but without a doctor, they are rendered useless too.

It’s the same at five other primary health centres in the remote Ahiri block about 50 km away.

Meanwhile, the 30,000 tribals who depend on these health centres are forced to turn to village quacks, witch doctors or, at best, a pharmacist.

“Malaria, tuberculosis and malnutrition are rampant here,” says Mungelwar. “For critical cases, relatives are forced to ferry patients miles away to block hospitals at Ahiri, Bhamragarh or Dr Prakash Amte’s popular hospital at Hemalkasa.”

Dr Amte — a doctor, social worker and Magsaysay awardee — is the son of social activist Baba Amte, also a Magsaysay awardee.

Often, this means carrying the patient about 70 km on foot, on a homemade stretcher, through dense forests. There are ambulances at the health centres, but most are in a state of disrepair.

“No doctor will work in these centres. They are considered punishment postings,” says Dr Amte, as he checks on Chimkaka Peddhi, a 45-year-old Madia tribal who has been diagnosed with TB.

Peddhi has been brought to his clinic from a village 250 km away, carried by villagers on a shoulder-mounted stretcher made of bamboo and rope.

In contrast to the Tadgaon health centre, Dr. Amte’s hospital (which is just 10 km away) is bustling with activity. The Amte family — Prakash Amte, wife Mandakini (also a Magsaysay awardee), son Digant and daughter-in-law Anagha, all doctors — works around the clock in shifts trying to deal with the flood of patients.

Sub-Divisional Officer (Ahiri) Damodar Nanhe is busy too, preparing for the October 13 state election.

“We have health centres all over,” he snaps. “They are all working. We have not received any complaints.”

Back in Tadgaon, Baburao Wankar (32) comes searching for his goat.

“I have never come here for treatment,” he frowns, as if the thought only just struck him.

Does he hope things will change in the near future?

“Yes. It is with that hope that I have been voting ever since I was eligible,” he says. “But nothing has changed.”

So why does he vote?

“I always vote for [sitting Congress MLA Dharmarao] Atram. He’s a good hunter,” he says.