What is important for the authorities is to ensure that they must not allow the deaths of these children to become an annual affair that needs to be justified and shouted about for a short period of time because it gets attention and it gets media coverage, only to go back to status quo ante when the noise recedes. Proactive steps need to be taken from vaccination to cleanliness to substantial improvement of the facilities and infrastructure at these government owned medical institutions.
It is time for us to take stock of the state of our medical colleges not just in Gorakhpur or the state of Uttar Pradesh but in the entire country. Have we ever wondered why it is always the poor who suffer because they are the only people who have to seek medical help in government owned medical colleges, civil hospitals or primary health centres?
Has a journalist ever made a surprise visit to any of these hospitals and seen the pathetic state of the hospitals and even the Intensive Care units? They would be shocked to see that it is quite common to experience a big shortage of ICU beds and to see patients lying on the floor with their relatives holding up the drip connected to their bodies because there is no equipment even to hold the bottle of saline or the bag of blood.
Have we looked at the availability of medicines in Government hospitals, which under most state laws are supposed to be given free of charge to people in the economically weaker sections of society? These medicines are supplied to these medical college shops by the Government and are prescribed by the doctors. More often than not, these medicines are not available. It is the norm that when a poor patient takes the prescription to the shop, he is told that medicines are out of stock. In the same breath, the pharmacist at the store tells the patient that he should walk across the road and go to the private chemist on the other side of the road where all these medicines are easily available, albeit at a cost.
In order to prevent theft and re-sale of government procured medicines, a simple solution is available. All medicines procured by the government for distribution free of charge should be packaged not in a silver strip but in a black foil strip with the medicine name and ingredients printed clearly across the strip in red. The medicine strips should also clearly state that these medicines are distributed free of charge and if anyone is found to be selling these medicines severe and exemplary action will be taken. This is a very simple solution to solve the problem but may not be economically beneficial to the procurement officials.
We need some serious introspection on the condition of all government owned health institutions in our country and the service they provide for the poor and the masses of our nation for whom they were really setup. Governments come and governments go. Some lip-sync their concerns and sympathy a little more than the others but most of them have done nothing after seven decades of our independence.
Only when we start going to the grass root of the problems will we be able to start fixing the institutions of health that serve the people. Accountability has to be sought and discipline must be enforced. Otherwise every year there will be an outbreak of encephalitis and every year we will express our shock only to forget about the outbreak till the next epidemic strikes.