Just 1.5 km from Phataki, the village of Nabarangpur BJD MP Balabhadra Majhi, there is a Primary Health Centre only three years old. Painted in pink, it is one of the 40 two-bed PHCs in the district. There’s just one problem though, actually two: the Deobandh PHC has no doctor, it has no electricity.
And so, the local residents, among them the MP’s brother and his family, rush for a quick tablet, an injection, a prescription, or even a stitch or two to Satyadeb Munda, the 37-year-old pharmacist and leader of a two-member medical army that also includes the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM).
MP Majhi admits the situation is “embarrassing”. “The lack of doctors in rural areas is a problem we face in Odisha. But how will you get a doctor to stay there if there’s no electricity? I have repeatedly requested the authorities to provide a connection. There is power in the area, I was told they are waiting for sanction for two electricity poles,” Majhi tells The Sunday Express.
As for the lack of a doctor, the Chief District Medical Officer of Nabarangpur, Dr Niranjan Nayak, confirms that of the 159 sanctioned posts for government doctors in the district, only 45 have been filled — roughly one doctor for its 27,000 people.
“This is a major challenge in the health sector. The state government regularly posts doctors to these rural areas. But no one is willing to stick on,” says Dr Nayak. “At the district headquarters hospital, we have sanctioned posts for 36 doctors. Twenty-seven are vacant.”
B K Mohapatra, Executive Engineer, Southern Electricity Supply Co of Odisha Ltd, won’t comment on a specific case, but says “a second line is being laid in the MP’s village”. The Deobandh PHC deals with around 40 patients every day, 40 cases of malarial fever every month, and even a couple of cases of “bear attacks” every three months.
Pharmacist Munda soldiers on for almost seven days a week, including half-days on weekends, with a stethoscope around his neck and a prayer on his lips. At the slightest hint of trouble, the B.Pharm degree holder from SCB Medical College in Cuttack refers patients to the Community Health Centre in Chandahandi, 13 km away, which has the only doctor in the entire block.
“Two doctors were posted to this PHC, one after the other, in the last three years. Both came after completing their MBBS degrees, spent a few months till they cleared their PG entrance exams, and left. The last doctor left in January 2014,” says Munda, attending to a bike accident victim whose bleeding scalp needs to be bandaged.
Pointing to the lack of electricity, he adds, “We can’t store medicines and we sterilise equipment on a gas stove. Look, we have the switches, power sockets, everything, but no power.” As a pharmacist, his job is to provide medicines, Munda says. “But here, I apply dressing on wounds, write prescriptions, stitch wounds. I have stitched wounds standing on the verandah because of the lack of light inside on cloudy days.”
Munda works in one hall, with a cupboard, a rack, two tables, two chairs, a physiotherapist’s exercise wheel nailed to the wall, and an empty doctor’s chair. “I have living quarters too, but how can we stay here without electricity? Then, there is the fear of bears. We treated a bear attack victim just last month,” says Munda, who is from Keonjhar, about 600 km away. He, his wife and a schoolgoing daughter stay in Chandahandi.
Munda is a contractual employee designated “regular against”, which means he will be made a permanent staffer in six years, out of which he has completed three. But on the other side is Lakshmipriya Mallick, the ANM, who is “just a contract employee”, which means she lives on hope from one year to the next. Then there’s a male sweeper “donated by the village”.
“According to rules, this PHC should have a doctor, a staff nurse, a pharmacist, an attendant and two sweepers. But here, the two of us and the sweeper do our best to ensure that we can help the people around us,” says Munda. “After all, it’s the MP’s village.”