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Activists say mental healthcare for Bhopal gas leak survivors ignored

Children born with congenital diseases during a candle light vigil on November 30 pay tributes to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, ahead of its 35th anniversary on December 2, 2019.

Children born with congenital diseases during a candle light vigil on November 30 pay tributes to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, ahead of its 35th anniversary on December 2, 2019.   | Photo Credit: PTI

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On the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak, activists flagged the lack of adequate healthcare for the survivors and alleged misappropriation of funds meant for their rehabilitation.

“The recent death of Abdul Jabbar, leader of a survivors’ organisation, points to what almost every patient visiting government hospitals goes through,” said Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh.

Citing a study by Srinivasa Murthy, an expert in post-disaster mental healthcare, Rachna Dhingra, of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, said, “30% of the exposed population were found to be mentally ill in 1985. He found 25 years later that 80% of them had not recovered. He found that even survivors in Latur (hit by an earthquake), Chernobyl (where a nuclear reactor exploded in 1986) and Iraq (where a war raged for years) recovering from the effects of mass disasters.”

She said over 4,000 patients visited the six hospitals run by the State government’s Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department every day. “Five of the hospitals have not had a psychiatrist for the past 19 years. The only psychiatrist who offered consultations for 12 hours a week, part time, left last month.”

Nawab Khan, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, said, “The departments of nephrology and surgical oncology have remained closed for several years, and there are no specialists in the neurology, pulmonary medicine, surgical gastroenterology and gastromedicine departments of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre.” And, no research had been conducted there in the past seven years. “Of the 16 new research projects listed by the Indian Council of Medical Research centre in Bhopal, just three are related to the disaster.”

Nousheen Khan, of the Children Against Dow Carbide, said a question posed under the Right to Information Act revealed that of the ₹104 crore allocated by the Centre for economic rehabilitation of the survivors, ₹18 crore was misappropriated, while ₹86 crore had remained unused for nine years now. And this, when thousands of the survivors’ families were facing starvation for lack of employment. “As many as 473 widows have been denied pension since last year for lack of funds,” she said.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2019 4:19:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/activists-say-mental-healthcare-for-gas-leak-survivors-ignored/article30140872.ece

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