Rapid urbanisation has led to a need for more primary health centres. The suburbs and extended areas especially, cry out for attention

The death of T. Sakthivel due to snakebite at his home in suburban Jalladanpettai near Tambaram has raised several questions about the public health system in Tamil Nadu.

The upgraded Primary Health Centre at Medavakkam was in the news as it was not able to help the boy when he was taken there early on Thursday. Incidentally, the PHC had received a national award for excellence in 2009. Later, from a meagre 6 deliveries in January 2007, it recorded 184 deliveries in October 2011, the highest among all PHCs in the State. The centre is also the ‘mother’ PHC for other health sub centres coming up within St. Thomas Mount Panchayat Union limits in the city’s southern suburbs. Experts note that if a model institution was not able to save a life, the scene at other health centres is likely to be bleak.

“They should have administered the vaccine even if they had only one vial. They should have tried to procure as many vials as possible from the nearest PHCs and transported the boy to Tambaram Taluk Government Hospital in Chromepet,” said S. Elango, former Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. He said that Tamil Nadu, which was performing better than other States in indicators such as infant and maternal mortality rates and life expectancy was lagging in life saving indicators, the recent death of the boy bite being an example. He suggested the formation of a committee, 50 per cent of which would comprise public health experts, representatives of NGOs and advocates, to audit unnatural deaths.

Dr. Elango, who is also president of Tamil Nadu chapter of Public Health Foundation of India, said a team under the supervision of the Chief Minister or the Health Minister should make unannounced checks on PHCs across districts every three months for a realistic assessment of the situation.

The committee, with statutory powers, should be a fact-finding one that will make an assessment of the state of preparedness to deal with unexpected contingencies, instead of a punitive one, he added.

Private hospitals too at fault

Many residents also said that the reported refusal of a private hospital to treat the boy unless a heavy fee was paid was a common practice in many other such institutions. C. Priyadarshini, a homemaker in Nemilichery, said, “We once saw an accident victim brought to a private hospital. The injured man, a motorcycle rider, was semi-conscious and even in that state, while providing first aid, the hospital staff kept asking him if his relatives could afford the Rs. 3 lakh needed for treatment.”

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