In Mizoram, transferring out a government doctor was serious enough a reason for a student body to call a highway blockade that cut off the entire state for five days. For, the doctor being transferred was the only surgeon serving an entire district. And he would have been the only surgeon in the new district where he was being sent, before the government revoked the transfer.
It began with the government issuing an order on May 18 transferring Dr Zothansanga Zadeng from Kolasib district civil hospital to Serchhip district. Kolasib district, where Dr Zadeng was the only surgeon, has a population of about 85,000. In Serchhip too, people have been demanding a surgeon after the district’s lone government surgeon had passed away a few months ago.
The blockade cut off Mizoram from the rest of India from June 6 to 10. Kolasib, the northernmost district, connects Mizoram to the rest of India and the blockade of the lone highway — NH 54, which is now NH 306 —snapped supply lines to the entire state.
District units of Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP), the state’s apex students’ union and women’s body respectively, wrote to Health Minister Lal Thanzara asking him to revoke the transfer order. “When there was no response, we first called a two-day strike on June 1 and 2. When that did not wake the government up, we formed a joint action committee with members of various groups and NGOs, which decided to go for an indefinite highway blockade from June 6,” said Zosanga, secretary of the district MZP unit.
The blockade stalled hundreds of trucks carrying various kinds of goods — essential foodgrains, petroleum products, construction materials, medicine, feed for poultry and piggery farms. On the third day, the government had to issue an order for rationing petrol and diesel in Aizawl. It also directed petrol pumps not to sell petrol and diesel to individuals in cans. And, the Mizoram Fruits & Vegetables Suppliers’ Association claims, its members suffered a loss of about Rs 60 lakh because most of their supplies were perishable items that were stuck for five days.
“Mizoram has been facing a shortage of doctors, and there is more than one reason for this,” said state health minister Lal Thanzara.
“One, our state does not have a medical college of its own, and we are solely dependent on medical colleges in other states to meet our requirements. We have a quota of 39 MBBS seats in various medical colleges of the country. The second reason is that we have not been able to recruit doctors for several years due to one reason or the other.”
This was not the first such agitation over the shortage of doctors. Only last month, Champhai district had witnessed a similar agitation with students’ and women’s bodies demanding filling up of several vacancies in government hospitals there. The agitation began with a demand for a pediatrician to the district civil hospital in April; then a JAC constituted to press for the demand found that the hospital did not have a surgeon or a pharmacist either, while the district jail too was functioning without a doctor.
“The healthcare scenario in Mizoram is indeed bad,” said Opposition Mizo National Front legislator Dr K Beichhua, himself a surgeon. “The state has been facing a severe shortage of doctors in the government sector because the state has not recruited doctors through the Mizoram Public Service Commission for more than five years.”
Dr Beichhua said he had to conduct several surgeries himself in government hospitals despite being a legislator. “At present there is no surgeon in three district civil hospitals: Serchhip, Longtlai and Mamit,” he said.
Said C Lal Lawmzuala, editor of Vairangte Aw, Kolasib’s most widely circulating local daily, “While a number of posts are lying vacant in government hospitals and health centres, private hospitals are too expensive. Moreover, for people in the hills, travelling 84 km to Aizwal, where the main civil hospital has over 100 doctors, is difficult.”
The absence of a surgeon in the Kolasib civil hospital has been an old problem, said Zosanga of the MZP. “Kolasib did not have a surgeon since 2008,” he said. “In 2013, a surgeon was sent here, but he was transferred barely three months later. While Dr Zadeng came in 2014, we had another surgeon called Dr Zochampuia, who is on contract with the National Health Mission and not authorised to carry out surgeries in the civil hospital.”
The AJC called off the highway blockade after the health minister found an “amicable” solution late Saturday night. “We have decided to revoke Dr Zadeng’s transfer order and instead send Dr Zochampuia to the civil hospital in Serchhip,” he said.
The minister said the process for recruiting 26 doctors had just begun, and the vacancies were expected to be filled within the next few weeks. “Interviews are being conducted in the next few days,” he said.
He said the state’s first medical college is likely to function from 2018. “The issue of setting up a medical college has been pending for long. The Centre is providing us funds,” he said. Even then, the shortage of government doctors will continue for several years. Assam, for instance, has five medical colleges but is short of doctors in the government sector.