The North East Region (NER) will get India’s first Air Dispensary, Minister of Development of North East Region (DONER) Jitendra Singh announced on November 13, 2017. The Central Government aims to start the project by the beginning of 2018. The proposed health services will be based in a helicopter; the government has contributed Rs 25 crore as initial funding.
The DONER Minister for the past few months had been exploring the idea of introducing a helicopter-based Dispensary or OPD service in such far-flung and remote areas where no doctor or medical facility is available and the patients in need also do not have access to any medical care, a meeting with the representatives of the Aviation sector and helicopter services. According to Singh, the proposal, put forward by the Ministry of DoNER, has been accepted and is in the final stages of processing in the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Singh acknowledged that nearly a third of India’s population does not have access to proper hospital bed care resulting in poor patients living in remote areas remaining deprived of crucial medical care. The said experiment being introduced in the Northeast, at the behest of the Ministry of Northeast/DoNER, can also be emulated in other hill states having difficult topography like Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
Highlighting more about the Air Dispensary envisaged plans, he said that the helicopters would be based at two locations namely Imphal in Manipur and Shillong in Meghalaya, to begin with. Singh justified that as both these cities have premier postgraduate medical institutes from where specialist doctors, along with the necessary equipment and paramedical staff, would be able to move into the helicopter and hold a dispensary or OPD in different locations across the eight states of the region.
Also on its way back, the same helicopter can also transport a sick patient requiring admission to a city hospital.
However, both the DoNER and Ministry of Civil Aviation failed to discuss how to get over two major difficulties - the first being the monsoon and winter seasons, where visibility is extremely poor while it should be noted that this is the peak season where many fall sick.
The commercial helicopter services in NER had already met with number of causalities, including the high profile crash involving former Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh and politicians of Meghalaya.
Reacting to the commercial service in the region, Singh informed that three twin-engine helicopters are planned to be placed for initial operation on six routes in regions around Imphal, Guwahati and Dibrugarh.
The second problem is that most of the Government sponsored Medical doctors, after completion of their studies refused to served in the Rural Sectors, worst so some even refused to return back to serve in home state, few of them have willingly paid the fine, which means they could have easily afford to study medicine, but preferred to occupied the quota, depriving other economically weaker section of the meritorious students.
DoNER should first streamline the service rule of the medico-practitioners, making it mandatory for all doctors to serve in rural area before any promotion, also the medical council should not issue the license for practice to those students who have enjoy the quotas of the respective government seats till they joint back to the state for agreed years of service.
As mentioned during monsoon, the helicopter service is impossible, which also means that even this Air Dispensary will not be functional, therefore, improving infrastructure of the Rural health centres is a must to bridge the gaps in medical health care.
Also it is time for the DoNER ministry to introspect on both the premier postgraduate medical institutes of Manipur and Meghalaya if they have enough manpower to attend to the sick patients brought by the Air Dispensary. The existing infrastructure and manpower is not able to handle the present pressure, and the services too need a relook in order to streamline the services.
Air Dispensary is indeed a welcome move, but definitely strengthening the existing Public Health Centres and Community Health Centres along with the appointment of doctors and assistants will result in better health care rather than the high flying OPD- Out Patient Department.