Lalrinsanga,* a resident of Lawngtlai district in Mizoram, had been aware of the poor healthcare facilities in his district. But it took a cousin’s death to really comprehend their pitiable condition.
“In 2018, my cousin had a health emergency. She needed an operation due to severe gastrointestinal complications. Due to the unavailability of a doctor and because we had no electricity for four days, she could not be operated on on time, and lost her life,” he told EastMojo.
In January 2021, the family was in for another scare when Lalrinsanga’s sister had a ruptured ovarian cyst. She needed an emergency operation, but there was no surgeon available in Lawngtlai. They had to rush to another district capital, Lunglei, which is a four-hour drive.
“They conducted an emergency operation in Lunglei, and somehow, her life was saved. There are many people in Lawngtlai and neighbouring areas who lost lives because they did not receive timely care and treatment. I know that this kind of situation has been faced not only by our family, but many other families,” he said.
‘Why transfer the only (four) doctors we have?’
At a time when Lawngtlai residents were already suffering due to the poor healthcare facilities and lack of doctors, the notification of the transfer of four doctors from the district hospital to another district stirred the public and became a cause for protest on Wednesday.
“We have been holding meetings with our state officials on the shortage of doctors in our district. We met the Chief Minister on May 3 when he was travelling to Siaha for the Mara Autonomous District Council campaign. We also called the Health Minister over the phone on May 8 as he was out of station. While we were demanding more doctors, they not only ignored our requests, but they took away the doctors currently posted here without any plans for replacements of their posts,” said Ruatpuia, President, Central Young Lai Association (CYLA), an apex NGO of the Lai Autonomous District Council spearheading the protests.
“When we approached the health minister for more doctors for our district, he responded to us saying they were facing a shortage of doctors across all districts due to ongoing court cases. But we told him we cannot be compared with other districts. People from our district have to travel almost 500 km just to come to Aizawl. We told him we can only wait until May for the government to give us more doctors. But then May came, and they transferred four of our existing doctors. The government has neglected us at every point, not just in the health sector. While we need a police strength of 200, we do not even have 100 though we are in the border area,” he said.
This is the first protest organised by the CYLA regarding their health facilities. “We have never organised any form of protest in the past. Even though there were many transfers, we tried to let it go saying they are government workers so this is normal. But when we compare our district to other districts, we realise more and more how unfair we are being treated. We have the highest rate of Malaria, we have the highest Infant Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Rate. We are the highest in so many aspects. We even have the highest population next to Aizawl, yet we have the least number of doctors. Since 2020, we have been asking for specialists in our district. Due to the lack of specialist doctors in Lawngtlai District Hospital, even patients who need specialised care are looked after by general doctors,” said Hmingsanga*, an executive member of the CYLA.
“In 2020, three doctors: Dr Chicky Azyu (Paediatrician), Dr B. Lalduhawma (Gynaecologist), Dr Vanlalremsiama (Surgeon) from Lawngtlai District Hospital were transferred without being replaced…Lawngtlai District Hospital now runs 30 beds out of 50 beds scheduled due to a lack of medical staff and Doctors. In comparison to Lawngtlai District, other Districts have much higher strength in Medical Doctors like Kolasib had 17, Champhai-14, Mamit-11 and 11 at Serchhip. After sending our request a number of times, the Government instead of success, our request has taken a backward step, which is a mark of disrespect for the people of Lawngtlai District,” said the CYLA in a statement.
The statement compared the population in each district with the number of doctors. Lunglei District, with a population of 1. 35 lakh as per the 2011 census, has 26 doctors, and Champhai district, with a population of 88,989 has 14 doctors. Lawngtlai, with a population of 1,17,444, however, has only seven medical doctors.
Women, children the worst hit
The lack of specialist doctors has largely affected the women and children of the district. “Our district does not have a paediatrician, so when my child is sick, we go to a senior general doctor in a private hospital,” said Zorinpuii,* a mother of one. “Even when I was going to have a baby, I had to consult doctors in Aizawl on phone and travel to Aizawl when I was nearing delivery,” she said. The mother is now expecting her second child and has travelled to Aizawl to consult a doctor.
But Zorinpuii is among the small population from the district who can make the tedious journey to Aizawl or to the nearest district capital Lunglei to consult doctors. The financially disadvantaged members of the community are the worst-hit and struggle even to make it to the district hospital.
Lalrinnungi,* a staff of Lawngtlai Civil Hospital, told EastMojo, “When babies are born, they are delivered by senior nurses or one of the doctors. If there are delivery cases where surgery is required, they are referred to other hospitals. Even when patients come, they have to wait long hours due to the small number of doctors available. The doctors have to do ultrasound, endoscopy, and travel for blood donation camps and other purposes while being on call.”
“We have lost so many lives because we do not have specialist doctors. People have to travel to Lunglei even to consult a paediatrician. The poorer sections of the society do not have the money to travel to Lunglei or Aizawl to consult doctors. There are two private hospitals so somehow we are managing, especially if these hospitals were not there we cannot imagine our situation,” said Hmingsanga.
He took the example of Bungtlang Primary Health Centre in Lawngtlai district, which looks after 97 villages. The PHC had only one doctor who was allegedly transferred in February. “After our repeated demands they have posted another doctor there,” he said.
The health minister Dr R Lalthangliana responded to the allegations of the lack of doctors in Lawngtlai district saying, “We are facing a big shortage of doctors in the state of Mizoram recently. This is because the appointment of sixteen doctors under MPSC(Mizoram Public Service Commission) has been put on hold due to a High Court case. We have 14 MBBS doctors who have gone for their PG studies. And also, in the past 6 months, 12 doctors have retired from their posts while four doctors who were in service have passed away. Lastly, 5 doctors have joined the Zoram Medical College. Altogether, we have 45 vacant doctor posts. Every district is difficult, and there are no doctors in 9 Primary Health Centres which we have to keep a priority.”
Regarding alleged negligence of Lawngtlai district, he told EastMojo, “There is no negligence, all districts are facing difficulty. However, there is a need to focus on their shortage more than the other districts as they have a large population, the area is big, and there are many health issues. When we can employ more doctors, we will take up an equal initiative for all the districts.”
Just a year back, the district of Lawngtlai faced many challenges in terms of healthcare when Covid-19 struck. Due to the damaged conditions of the road and poor working ambulances, Vansangpuii, a Covid-19 affected woman who was eight months pregnant, lost her life on the road while she was being transferred to Aizawl. The ambulance in which they were carrying her broke down twice and they had to request another ambulance halfway through the journey.
Puitei Azyu, a research scholar at Mizoram University, who is from the Lawngtlai district also believes her father, who was Covid-19 positive, became weak due to the tedious journey from Lawngtlai to Aizawl.
“Covid-19 was cruel in our district, I don’t even know how to express it. We did not have a ventilator operator and my father who was Covid-19 positive had to be taken to Zoram Medical College. When he was in Lawngtlai hospital, he was still quite alert but after travelling over 250 km in an ambulance, he became very weak,” said Azyu.
Her father breathed his last in the Zoram Medical College.
The CYLA has demanded that the Mizoram Government cancel the transfer order of doctors employed at the Lawngtlai district hospital and provide specialist doctors such as gynaecologists, paediatricians, general surgeons and eye specialist there.
“If the government does not meet our demand, we will take more effective measures,” they said.
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