Koraput: Doctors in India say they have not received enough equipment or government support to battle an outbreak of cholera in the impoverished eastern part of the country.
Although graduates of India’s heavily subsidized state-run medical schools are required to spend a few years at government hospitals—including those in the remote and hilly tribal districts of Orissa—facilities are sparse.
“Five of us are cramped into this room. We can’t stay inside this place for too long,” said Bibhu Kalyan Sahu, a doctor who shares a dingy room with four colleagues.
“We don’t even have clean drinking water. We buy bottled water on our own,” he said.
“The food here is terrible,” said Partho Panda, another doctor posted in the cholera-hit area.
“When we ask for a second helping, the private contractor who provides us food says: ‘Are you here for a wedding or what?’”
Cholera has claimed more than 200 lives since July, according to official figures, although activists say the real toll is higher and blame the outbreak on neglect of poor, rural areas and in particular tribal communities.
The doctors say they put in long hours at the hospital—even though there are only a handful of patients left as the cholera epidemic is contained—because they have nothing else to do in the remote village.
“If we spend five years at a government hospital, we earn extra points for admission for a post-graduate degree,” Sahu said, but added that “no medical student wants to come here. They all want to go to Delhi and other big cities”.
With few takers for village jobs, posts often remain vacant for years and hospitals are locked, although officials say they have “functionalized” some hospitals after the cholera outbreak was reported.
Still, villagers in parts of Orissa—known as one of India’s poorest state—are left with a skeleton service.
To reach the nearest hospital, villager Dhubli Shanta, a 70-year-old tribal woman, had to ask neighbours to put her on a cot and carry her down a mud track to the nearest hospital when she came down with severe diarrhoea. The woman, however, died on the way—a victim of the lack of telephones, ambulances and roads in the state.
At the Dasmantpur hospital, the closest to Shanta’s hamlet, five additional doctors have been temporarily posted on “epidemic duty”.
For transport, the hospital only has a rickety jeep to ferry the sick, although officials insist the situation is not as bad as it looks.
“Hospitals have been given clean drinking water and electricity. We are also constructing houses for doctors in these places,” said Bhaskar Sarma, the top administrative official in the neighbouring Rayagada district.