Missing medical colleges: On the case of the Madurai AIIMS

India’s poor doctor-population ratio cannot be set right without better Centre-State ties 

April 18, 2024 12:10 am | Updated 12:44 pm IST

Even lofty dreams can be felled by the nitty-gritty of implementation. Nothing exemplifies this as much as the case of the Madurai AIIMS. The idea of starting a number of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) across the country certainly comes from a clear need — to bridge the gap between demand and supply in India, and set right the grossly inefficient doctor-patient ratio. In 2003, the Centre announced the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY) with this precise goal. It was in 2006 that the PMSSY got off the ground and a total of six AIIMS-like medical institutions were created in the country. Currently, there are 20 AIIMS institutions with functional medical colleges and three are under development. No doubt, these institutions have created plentiful opportunities for students and advanced the goal of taking affordable health-care education beyond metros. But the intentions are more robust than implementation. At AIIMS Madurai, a project that has caused a further embittering of relations between the central and State governments, there are persistent complaints of inadequate infrastructure, facilities, and manpower constraints. A ‘prestige’ project for the Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for construction at Thoppur, Madurai, in January 2019. From 2021, undeterred by the lack of something as basic as a building, the administration invited applications from students. The construction work is still not complete, and not one, but three batches of undergraduate students have been accommodated at the Government Medical College and Hospital, in nearby Ramanathapuram district. Last week, these students went on protest, stating that there was a ravine-like gulf between what was expected of an AIIMS institution and their experience of it in Madurai — in terms of infrastructure, but also exposure to patients.

The extraordinary delay in constructing the AIIMS became a contentious issue during the 2021 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, with Udhayanidhi Stalin of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, now a Minister, pointing to a single brick as the sum total of construction activity there. While there are assurances that the project would be completed soon and students shifted to Madurai, it is true that 150 students have already been impacted by this tardy implementation. Meanwhile, the original issue behind starting AIIMS remains unresolved. As per official data, the doctor-population ratio in the country stands at 1:834, worse in rural areas. It is the role of the Centre and the State to work together to ensure that these medical institutions are able to provide high quality education, and that students not made victims at the altar of federal relations.

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