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Neglected, critical: Raigad’s rural healthcare remains in urban shadows

A month after three children died of food poisoning, ill-equipped government hospitals still struggle to deal with patients

mumbai Updated: Jul 19, 2018 00:34 IST
Pranab Jyoti Bhuyan
Pranab Jyoti Bhuyan
Hindustan Times
Raigad,Rural healthcare,Alibaug
The Alibaug civil hospital can handle only 276 patients.(HT Photo)

Seven-year-old Kalyani Shingote from Mahad village at Khalapur, 60km from Navi Mumbai, was taken ill on June 19 for food poisoning that happened at a housewarming. She was rushed to a private hospital at Khopoli, around 5km away.

Doctors, however, did not have adequate facilities to treat her and instead sent her to MGM Hospital at Kamothe, 45 km from Khopoli. But it was too late by then. Shingote died on the way.

Two of her cousins — Rishikesh Shinde, 12, and Pragati Shinde, 13, — from the same village met with the same fate as they did not receive immediate medical treatment. They too died while travelling to MGM Hospital.

Around 90 people suffered from food poisoning at Khalapur and almost all of them were admitted to private hospitals in Navi Mumbai.

Navnath Gaikar, 41, a resident of Mahad village, said government hospitals were opted by people who could not afford private treatment. “Private hospitals are around 6km from our village. But none of them is well-equipped to treat critical patients. The residents do not want to waste time and money by going there. Most of them prefer going to Navi Mumbai,” said Gaikar.

Thousands of people from Raigad district travel up to 150kms to hospitals in Navi Mumbai and Mumbai for better medical treatment but for many, it is a risky drive.

Alibaug is the only civil hospital in Raigad and it can accommodate only 276 patients. This is the only government hospital in the district which has an ICU and ventilators. The district’s population is around 30 lakh.

The hospital’s out-patient department (OPD) sees around 1,000 patients a day on an average. Plagued by severe staff crunch, the hospital is struggling to cater to the increasing number of patients. It has 444 sanctioned posts for doctors and 189 of them are vacant.

According to Dr Ajit Gawli, the Raigad civil surgeon, finding doctors for the government hospitals is not a problem. The problem is finding doctors who will continue working there. “Most of our doctors are bonded doctors and they quit once the contract is over. The MBBS doctors want to study further and go away after working here for a few years,” he said. “Raigad is mostly a rural area and doctors do not want to stay here for long. So they are ready to quit their government job to take up private jobs in urban areas. While doing so they don’t mind compromising with their salary. The doctors also want good schools and colleges for their kids.”

Raigad has five sub-district and nine rural hospitals. Except for the one at Mangaon, which has 100 beds, each of the four other sub-district hospitals has 50 beds. The rural hospitals have 30 beds each.

Those who can spend more prefer to go to private hospitals, of which there are 447 in the district. But, most of them are located in the interior areas and have only five to 10 beds. Good private hospitals are at Kharghar, Kamothe and Panvel, and residents have no option but to travel all the way.

“There is no incentive for government doctors. We have to work 24 hours a day, while people work eight to 10 hours in other jobs. Due to staff crunch, many of us have to work on Sundays too,” Gawli said.

The state has plans to open some more hospitals in the district.

Gawli said there are plans to start three new rural hospitals (comprising 30 beds each) at Pali, Tala and Wadkhal. “The hospital at Wadkhal will have a trauma centre too but work has not started yet,” he said.

The government is also planning to start a 100-bed hospital at Uran which has a 30-bed rural hospital.

“The Panvel rural hospital is going to be upgraded to a sub-district hospital. It will then have 120 beds. It will be ready within a few months,” Gawli said.

There are plans for opening a sub-district super-speciality hospital at Nagothane but land acquisition is a hurdle. “We are planning to upgrade the primary health centre, near Raigad court, to a rural hospital. Likewise, a 100-bed hospital for women has been sanctioned at Alibaug. But we are not finding land for it,” Gawli said.

Sachin Desai, district health officer of Raigad, said there are 51 primary health centres across the district. But, they have no plans to start more centres. The district has 109 sanctioned posts for doctors and 18 of them are vacant. “We recently hired 22 doctors for the health centres. The population of rural areas is shrinking as people are migrating to cities. So we have no plans to open more such health centres for the next few years,” Desai said.

Senior doctors said that people do not come to government hospitals as Alibaug is not centrally located. “People can reach several good private hospitals travelling shorter distances,” said an assistant medical officer. “Second, the condition of roads in Raigad is not good. People can easily reach Navi Mumbai via the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.”

The medical officer said that levels of healthcare at government hospitals are below standard. “If there is a need of better treatment, patients are shifted to hospitals in Navi Mumbai and Mumbai,” the officer said.

Raigad’s creaking public healthcare system has badly affected the residents of Bawe village, located on the eastern foothills of Chinchoti hills, around 8km deep inside Revdanda. “There is one primary health centre at our village, but doctors rarely come here. In case of emergency we have no option but to travel to Alibaug which is around 18km from our village,” said Girish Patil, sarpanch of the village.

Mahesh Patil, 41, a resident of the village said, “The village has a population of around 600. There are 12 villages in the area but no healthcare.”

First Published: Jul 19, 2018 00:34 IST