TEN months after the Chhattisgarh government devised incentives to get doctors to Naxal-dominated areas, which was followed by an SOS on social media by Bijapur District Collector Dr Ayyaz Tamboli inviting medical practitioners, the number of doctors in the district hospital has tripled — from eight to 24. The number of nurses is up from 10 to 36. A district headquarters, Naxal-dominated Bijapur is little more than a small town, with large government boards all over carrying pictures of those killed by Maoists and cautioning people about the Left-wing extremists. However, right in the middle of the town, stands a building with clean tiles, up-to-date equipment, two new operation theatres, and a blood bank. The Bijapur district hospital also has two gynaecologists, one pathologist, two paediatricians, a general surgeon, a specialist in anasthesia, and an opthalmologist — all of who have joined in the last one year.
To make up for the critical shortfall of doctors in Naxal-affected areas, Chhattisgarh had announced a differential package system around June 2016, with non-Naxal plain areas at the lowest, and tribal, inaccessible Naxal areas at the highest end of the scale. Salaries for doctors choosing to work in core Maoist districts like Bijapur can now be as high as Rs 2.5 lakh per month.
Director, Health Services, R Prasanna says funds were used from the District Mineral Foundation and National Health Mission to create these incentivised slabs, as well as to provide doctors other facilities lacking in these parts. “The biggest drawback for doctors was the lack of good accommodation, good schools and so on. We have created well-kept transit hostels for families, and can put in a word with good schools in Chhattisgarh if the family of a doctor wants it,” Prasanna says, adding that like Bijapur, they have met success in Sukma and Dantewada.
Tamboli says that days after he had sent the SOS, also pointing out the incentives available to doctors, he was inundated by calls. “There were 46 specialists and 66 MBBS doctors who responded, and others before that through connections to colleges like AMU. We responded to each call directly and had negotiations… The doctors we got eventually are mostly young, first-generation doctors, who want to make a difference,” he says.
Over the past year, an ICU, two new operation theatres, a modern mortuary, a blood bank and multiple waiting areas have been set up, while on January 30, a 50-bed maternal and child healthcare unit came up. The hospital is now entirely disabled-friendly with a separate approach for emergency victims.
Tamboli counts the blood bank as one of their most significant achievements. “Blood donation here is a problem. Most locals are too anaemic or have other complications when it comes to donating blood. So we would rely heavily on CRPF personnel to give blood. Now there is a system in place where every government department gives blood once a month. If one month it’s panchayat officials, another month it’s a battalion of the CRPF. That’s how we have created a blood bank… Earlier, on most occasions we had to refer cases to Jagdalpur, three hours away by road. But, over the past year, we have had over 500 surgeries in Bijapur,” he says.
Dr Arun Choudhury was one of the first new doctors to arrive in Bijapur. He came around 18 months ago, much before Tamboli sent out a call for help. Choudhury says he was prodded by his head of department at AMU and, in his final year of gynaecology, drove down from Aligarh to Bijapur, a distance of 1,400 km. Choudhury remembers it was July and raining heavily when he and his wife Pratibha arrived. They were “spellbound” by the beauty of Bastar in the rains, he says.
“At the hospital, one of the doctors sought me out, saying there was an emergency. There was a mother in obstructed labour and her heart rate had dropped. I operated on the mother, without even being a regular doctor, and in some time, there was a healthy baby in my arms. There was no way I could leave after that. I got more batchmates from the AMU to join me too,” says Choudhury.
At their home in the transit hostel next to the district hospital, Pratibha, who now teaches at a government school in Bijapur, complains jokingly about her husband’s irregular timings. “He works long hours and there is always one operation after another. On Fridays, he takes classes for the nurses, but those go long beyond the stipulated hour,” she says.
Laughing, Choudhury says, “There are so many health issues here, and so much space to learn. There are constant complications like anaemia, malnourishment, scabies, poor sanitation, malaria and sickle cell anaemia. There is no greater happiness than working in an area that needs it the most.”