(Manoj Singh, Jan Sanskriti Manch General Secretary and a Gorakhpur-based journalist has for years been reporting on the sorry state of affairs in the BRD Hospital, which is a major centre across Eastern UP and Nepal for the treatment of Japanese encephalitis. Excerpts from an article of his in The Wire)

During an election rally in Manbela, barely half a kilometre away from BRD Medical College, Modi had communicated his chest size to the gathering and in the same breath, expressed great anguish at the deaths of children due to encephalitis, asserting that everything would become all right once his government was formed.

Modi did become the prime minister and Yogi Adityanath, who claimed to have initiated a campaign to combat encephalitis, became the chief minister of the state.

The question is, has anything changed? Nothing whatsoever. The situation remains the same; in fact it has worsened. Grand statements were made but no action was taken on ordinary, but crucial, day-to-day concerns….

On February 14, 2016, the principal of BRD College had written to the director general, Medical and Health Services, urgently seeking Rs 37.99 crore for the treatment of encephalitis cases, said sources. The director general had forwarded the letter to the director, National Health Mission (NHM), requesting that this budget requirement be added to NHM’s yearly action plan for Uttar Pradesh.

The Centre and state governments – both of the BJP at present – have not been able to put together this amount of Rs 37.99 crore required to streamline arrangements for the regular treatment of encephalitis patients and for the medical care of newborns.

A hospital treating over 60% of the encephalitis cases in the country requires a high yearly budget to take care of the cost of treatment, medicines, oxygen and human resources. That this amount should be made available every financial year so that the institution is able to function smoothly is equally obvious. And yet it is baffling that there is no regular provision in place to look after the requirements of the encephalitis and neonatal wards.

BRD Medical College receives 2500 to 3000 encephalitis patients every year. Adequate finances are needed for the investigation of cases, treatment, medicines, and oxygen. Apart from the local population, people from Basti, Azamgarh, Bihar and even Nepal come to the hospital. In the heavy months of August, September and October, the average number of patients the hospital sees per month can range between 400 to 700.

On August 28, 2016, when the Union minister for health, Anupriya Patel, visited BRD Medical College, many patients complained to her that there was no alternative for them but to buy medicines from outside. The institution did not have the budget to stock up on medicines.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath visited the hospital twice in a month. He was accompanied by the chief secretary, medical education, as well as chief secretary, health services. A meeting was held and grand claims were made about putting an end to the daily tragedies of children’s deaths.

The medical college was so hamstrung by the lack of finances that three to four newborns were being kept on one warmer. Moreover, families were asked to sign consent forms saying that in the event of the death of their child due to infections caused due to being placed with other newborns in one warmer, the institution would not be held responsible.

The pediatric ICU has 50 beds for an average of 300 children admitted every month. In the light of these facts, the medical college had also sent a proposal for the establishment of a larger ward, into a level three ICU to be managed by a staff of 149 staff, requiring a budget of Rs 10 crore, to the administration. The Adityanath government has still not approved that proposal. (On 22 August, Rs 7.28 crore were finally released from the National Health Mission for the upgradation of the NICU of BRD Hospital – ed/)

Sources said that the medical college needs a yearly budget of Rs 7.5 crore to cover the expenses of medicines, repair of equipment as well as laboratory costs. The yearly budget for the supply of oxygen was lumped together with the budget for medicines. That is why the hospital is faced with a constant crisis of shortage of oxygen and medicines. It is the cause of the current crisis as well. …

…for the past five years the medical college has also been seeking a yearly budget of Rs 20 crore to meet the expenses of the 400 medical staff engaged in looking after the encephalitis cases but to no avail.

While a physical, medicine and rehabilitation department was created to look after all the needs of children disabled by encephalitis, its staff of 11 has not been paid for 27 months. Three doctors have left the institution for this very reason.

The Wire had reported that the staff dealing with encephalitis cases had not been paid for four months. As for the employees of the PMR department, they had not been paid for 27 months. Due to the pressure created by the report, the encephalitis ward staff received their pending salaries. The 27-month-long wait of the PMR department staff, though, has still not ended. 


Pushing A Privatisation Agenda

In the most dishonest and shameless manner Union Minister Nitin Gadkari is using the dead bodies of children as fodder for the Government’s agenda of privatization of hospitals. He has said that Governments must of course provide land and infrastructure to the private players to run hospitals! Has he forgotten that oxygen cylinders too are crucial medical infrastructure – why didn’t the Government provide funds for those? Private hospitals which charge exorbitant fees, kill poor patients too simply by creating a money barrier to healthcare – or they profit by bleeding the poor who are forced to expend their life savings in private hospitals.

The claim that Governments lack funds to run hospitals is a blatant lie. The budget to provide care for newborn babies and encephalitis patients in the BRD Hospital of Gorakhpur is a mere Rs 40 crore a year. Yet the Central Government failed to provide this fund in spite of requests by the Medical College principal to allocate funds under the National Health Mission. But the Modi Government has, in three years, written off loans of super rich corporates to the tune of Rs 1.54 lakh crore – nearly the same amount of the 2G scam! How come the Modi Government can ensure an uninterrupted supply of loans to corporates without demanding repayment – but refuses to ensure that a Hospital catering to the poor in epidemic zone Gorakhpur can give uninterrupted supply of oxygen to prevent children being choked to death?