"The government is keen to further upgrade the facilities in SKIMS (Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences) and other tertiary hospitals... Modernization of health sector is being carried forward by the government on priority," he said, chairing the 41st Governing Body Meeting of SKIMS in Srinagar. During the past five years, he pointed out that various initiatives had been taken to upgrade and modernize facilities at SKIMS and other health institutions, besides extending health care facilities in urban as well as rural areas.
Many people ask whether Omar Abdullah has been briefed about the ground reality regarding the referring to the extension of health services to rural areas. As far as rural people are concerned, there is only one reality - the farther the village, the poorer will be the services.
Two hundred and fifty kilometers from Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, the border district of Poonch and its villages are a perfect example of how distance is directly proportional to the poor implementation of schemes. Despite being an area with tough geography and sensitive strategic location, the healthcare services provided to the inhabitants are nowhere close to adequate.
Many border-villages in Poonch district face difficulties with regard to healthcare. Many villages are devoid of a health center and if a health center is present, its effectiveness is marred by many issues such as irregular staff, shortage of staff, non-availability of medicines, infrastructural problem and a lot more.
Ten kilometers from District Headquarters Poonch is a village called Khanetar. Inhabited by a population of fifteen thousand. This village is considered to be one of the largest villages of Poonch and is divided into three panchayats - Dupriyan, Kilsan and Dilera. Every panchayat consists of 10 wards with four health centers distributed across thirty wards.
Of the four, one is being run from a private house near the Khanetar High School as no separate building has been constructed for the center. The Sub centers at Duprian and Dilera too are operated from shops. One can only imagine the quality of services provided at these centers which do not even have a building of their own.
In some locations, the building has been constructed by the government, but owing to issues related to monetary compensation to the owner of the land, they are yet to start functioning. A fresh example of this is the Salotri sub- center located near the Zero Line, where the building was constructed long ago but is yet to start offering services to the inhabitants due to a disagreement between the land lord and the Government.
According to Abdul Karim, a local resident, the condition of the building is deteriorating day-by-day. "The building has become a safe haven for dogs and jackals that enter the building through the dilapidated doors," says a cynical Karim.
Another resident of the village, Abdul Rashid, says that the villagers have gone to the authorities several times requesting them to resolve the issue but haven't received any response from them.
Now being run from a rented shop, the Centre houses doctors working here under distressful conditions. These vary from having less space to claustrophobia in the hot, humid weather.
In other Panchayats like Kilsan, however, it gets even worse. The relatively larger population is left to fend for itself without a Center at all. Patients from the ten wards of Kilsan Panchayat cover a distance of two kilometers on foot to reach the Tanda bus stand where a private practitioner offers health services. In case of serious health problems, they have no option other than visiting the district hospital at Poonch.
As per statistics issued by the Health Department, there are only 1907 sub centers against the required 3044, clearly indicating the shortage of 1137 sub centers in the region.
Another issue plaguing the health care services in Poonch is the shortage of staff at these centers. The number of female community health workers in sub centers across Poonch District is 3941 while the male health workers are 541. There are only 845 doctors in the Primary Health Centers (PHC) with 705 Pharmacists available to cater to the health of the people of Poonch. According to the information retrieved from PHC Magnad, every sub-center is supposed to have four workers but at Khanetar sub center there are only three workers with no cleaning staff. Doctors have to arrange for someone to get the center cleaned. The Charkha Development Communication Network recalls the irony: Khanetar was declared a 'Model Village' in 2012 but is yet to be acquainted with quality services.
Many political leaders, including Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar, Sports minister Taj Mohi-ud-din, Former Member of Parliament Madan Lal Sharma and Minister for Roads and Building Department Abdul Majid Wani have visited the village, but the villagers are still waiting for the issues affecting the lives to be resolved.
The views expressed in the article are of the author.