Saturday, December 19, 2009

Assam’s Rural Health

We have long lamented the state of the Assam Government’s health-care infrastructure even in the face of the colourful advertisements that seek to extol what the State government is doing for everyone’s health and how well it is striving to stoke population growth by paying cash awards to expectant mothers who have their babies in government hospitals. We have long been referring to the highest infant mortality and maternal mortality rates that we have in the entire country. We have also referred time and again to the high rate of anaemia among our rural women and the even higher rate of malnutrition among children. On Friday, the Lok Sabha was informed of the shocking state of health care in Assam through a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) of India on the miserable performance of the State in the implementation of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). The CAG report placed before the Lok Sabha reveals that Assam is the only State in the Northeast that has a health-care performance record below the national average. Even measured in terms of per capita expenditure on health (not always a reliable yardstick), the State’s performance is dismal. Assam’s per capita health expenditure is a paltry Rs 471 compared to Mizoram’s Rs 1,611, Sikkim’s Rs 1,446, Nagaland’s Rs 794, Arunachal Pradesh’s Rs 771, Tripura’s Rs 740, Manipur’s Rs 695 and Meghalaya’s Rs 690. Assam also has the lowest number of government hospital beds per one lakh population: just 11. Compare this with the other States: Mizoram 128; Sikkim 173; Nagaland 85; Arunachal Pradesh 188; Tripura 66; Manipur 94; Meghalaya 106. Actually Mizoram tops the health service performance in the country, while Assam’s performance ranks the lowest in the Northeast and is also at the bottom end of the national list. However, this is not very surprising. In Assam, the entire government is on a very popular picnic called ‘‘making money for myself from government funds’’. Gimmicks like Mrityunjay ambulance vans alone do not make for health care. They can be compared to the ritual of distributing computers to meritorious students because good education has not been ensured. THE SENTINEL

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