By Saumithra Goutham:
One early evening, sitting in my room at Khangabok, I heard my colleague calling out my name and informing me that he was going somewhere. I understood from the hurried tone that he was under pressure. So, I asked if I could join him wherever he was heading. He said he was going to the hospital as his uncle had had a diabetic stroke.
On our way, I asked him why they did not have a fully equipped hospital in our village, which has a population of around 15,000, thus qualifying for a proper setup. He let it go and told me that we were heading to Imphal (the capital of Manipur) which is 25kms away and has a better facility.
This difference in how the government looks at the needs of a rural population and those of an urban one is an open secret. The rural population is almost invisible for the government, even though it gets its majority share of votes from them.
We reached the RIMS (Regional Institute of Medical Sciences) hospital, which is run by the government and houses a medical college as well. We hurried into the Out Patient Department (OPD) ward which was pretty crowded. I had to sneak in towards the consultant and grab his attention. He did his duties and gave us a prescription of what medicines to buy and what tests the patient had to go through.
The patient had to be taken to diagnostics where his blood and urine were put to test. I could see a person helping out my colleague. I thought he might be a relative who works in the hospital. He turned out to be a stranger, though, and in my colleague’s opinion, nothing less than an angel. The hospital setup can freak anyone, especially if it is their first visit.
So we extracted the samples of blood and urine from the patient and laid him down on the compound as they did not provide beds for the outpatients. The Regional Institute of Medical Science, which is supposed to be the biggest government-run hospital in Manipur, did not have a diagnostic centre. So we had to go outside for the tests at 11:00 pm in the night.
The angel I spoke of even provided us with a bike, and a guy who would take us to the diagnostic centre, get the samples checked, and bring us back. He introduced himself as an office staff trying to help. Thus, we went to diagnostic centre and gave the samples. They tried to charge two times the actual price for the tests. It was late in the night and some added reasons were given, so we obliged. We were told that the reports would be delivered to the hospital straight away. I was happy.
We returned to the hospital and I could see the angel talking to some other group of people. He was doing the same thing, helping others out. “Are people really that jobless here?” was the first thought that came to me.
No. Further observations made it clear that the man owns the diagnostic centre. He approaches every patient, looks at their prescription, tries to find out if they require any diagnostic help, pretending he’s an office staff trying to help. Then he directs the patients to his diagnostic centre, which charges a whopping double or triple the prescribed price.
The diagnostic centres are run like a mafia in RIMS. They come after patients at a time when they are most vulnerable, especially people like my host who are from rural areas. These people are easy targets. People who don’t know what is where in the city. They have crew members to drive the patients to the destinations and get them back. Don’t be surprised, but the hospital premises are filled with many of these crew members, looking around to prey on the ones they think look vulnerable. Every crew member is assigned to a patient. They belong to different diagnostic centres, stalking around at different places in the hospital.
The parking lot was filled with these crew member’s bikes. Each bike was carrying at least three people, going in and out every five minutes. Security was allowing these goons to enter and exit as they pleased, without stopping them. How is it that no officials were observing such atrocities happening around such big institutions run by the government?
In Manipur, the place where I work as an India Fellow with the non-profit organisation Odesh, people do not have enough information about what is happening to and around them. They are made to believe that the India-China spat over their ownership is their biggest challenge. The ignorance of the locals is being cashed upon, their lives and rights exploited by the government officials and other entities. No government institute is run as it is supposed to, no official is available as they’re bound to. The government’s ‘outreach’ to its people has resulted only in ignorance, and the private institutes ‘reach out’ to their customers by breaking rules. They can both stand tall and proud, and watch as things fall apart.
*Featured Image: Filed image from the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Manipur, courtesy The New York Times
2017 Cohort India Fellow Saumithra Goutham reports a field story of public-private nexus in Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, the biggest medical facility in Imphal, capital of Manipur; looting unsuspecting rural patients in distress.