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This Recent Tragedy At A Hospital In Odisha Shows How Public Healthcare Is Failing Us

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By Sanjay K Bissoyi:

On October 17, 2016, a dreadful fire tragedy brought a horrific end to 19 people’s lives in a private hospital in the capital city of Odisha, Bhubaneswar. They did not breathe their last breath for ailments, but because they consumed fire which broke out at the dialysis unit of the SUM hospital.  There are several people injured, who are undergoing treatment in various hospitals across the country including AIIMS, Delhi. ICU is for the most vulnerable patients and the blaze there shows heights of insensitivity towards safety on the part of the authority.  It is reported that SUM hospital does not possess a fire safety certificate as it had blatantly overlooked Odisha government’s 2013 advisory to improve fire fighting mechanisms. Odisha has 1200 private institutions, shockingly only three have the fire safety certificates. It is not only a sorrowful incident but also a warning for the state as well as the country.

In 2011, a fire had broken out at Advanced Medical Research Institute (AMRI) in Kolkata and 90 people lost their lives. Investigations showed that there was a litany of violations before the tragedy. The basement of hospital was packed with various ignitable chemicals and medical waste. The hospital was short of adequate fire-fighting apparatus. The most appalling information was that the hospital staff informed the fire brigade an hour-and-a-half after the fire broke out. The hospital had many loopholes to fill which would have otherwise controlled the fire explosion. In the aftermath of the AMRI incident, the government had pursued safety measures for each and every hospital in India and had ordered them to follow the rules and regulations strictly. However, that has clearly fallen on deaf ears.

After the AMRI incident, although the Odisha government ordered every institution to follow the instructions, fires broke out at SCB Medical College, Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre and Sishu Bhawan. Although, major casualties were not reported, public properties were destroyed. The government had investigated the incidents, but so far no action has been taken against the culprits. Most of the hospitals have no necessary occupancy and fire safety certificates, which are required under the Odisha Clinical Establishments (Control and Regulation) Act, 1990, National Building Code and Odisha Fire Service Act, 1993. The Director of Medical Education and Training (DMET) should have scrutinised all measures before renewal of licences of hospitals, but wilful negligence of institutions is clearly visible. Hospitals, also hotels, company buildings etc., hang fire extinguishers on the walls and put an end to their accountability.

Moreover, most of the staff are not familiar with the use of fire extinguishers, despite it being a rule that every employee must be trained to use a fire extinguisher. According to the National Building Code, 2005, there must be a sprinkler, fire alarm, smoke detection system, wet raiser and a yard hydrant in every 15-metre high building. Nonetheless, not every institution is following the rules.

A good number of people from neighbouring states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal come to Odisha for two reasons. One is for better medical treatment at a lower cost in comparison to metro cities and another is to spend holidays in the amalgamation of temples and scenic beauties of the state. The SUM incident is a major setback to Odisha’s growing medical tourism. If such incidents occur regularly, the dream to make Bhubaneswar a medical hub will remain a distant one. However, we don’t seem to be learning any new lesson from such horrendous tragedies. The time has come to introspect and implement safety measures.  The state government should use this incident as an occasion to transform the system and reinstate the public’s faith in hospitals.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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