Stringent protocols or lack of coordination between Meghalaya government and the district administrations for handling the COVID-19 situation is being questioned repeatedly. The Garo Hills region has seen the toughest time in the past due to a sheer lack of upgraded health care facilities. On several occasions, patients had to be ferried to Shillong for treatment. During this COVID-19 pandemic, it was alleged that the patients from Garo Hills depend on ambulances procured from Goalpara, Assam, as ambulances are not available in their region to ferry patients referred to North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute for Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS) in the State capital.
The fear of being put under quarantine once they visit Shillong, has deterred the ambulance drivers from shifting passengers to the hospitals of Shillong. With a spike in COVID positive cases in the East Khasi Hills district specially Shillong; there is a constant fear for anyone visiting from other districts.
Congress legislator and AICC secretary Zenith Sangma termed the pandemic management by the NPP-led State Government as a 'complete failure'."Garo Hills patients have to get ambulances and drivers from Goalpara when they are referred to NEIGRIHMS in Shillong. I called up the Director of Health Service who said he had no knowledge of the issue," Sangma said. "Moreover if any ambulance (carrying patients) comes from Tura to a hospital in Shillong the driver has to also undergo mandatory quarantine not just in Shillong but also in Tura after returning. Therefore essentially by rendering a day's duty drivers have to be quarantined for 14 or 28 days. Therefore they are refusing this responsibility. Consequently now patients are bringing ambulances from Goalpara Assam where the driver comes all the way from Goalpara ," the former taxation minister added.
The AICC secretary further alleged that there is no coordination between the government and the respective district magistrates. "Different district administrations have different ideas to fight the virus," he added. Sangma said that during a meeting convened by the Speaker, the Opposition has highlighted these issues, but the ruling government has not taken any proactive measures.
Some residents of Garo Hills were contacted for comments. "Even I had to hire an ambulance from Goalpara when my father was unwell. After reaching a hospital in Shillong we had to first rush for a COVID test and other COVID related formalities before the actual treatment begun," said Elias A Sangma, a resident from Garo Hills."I had tried hard to get an ambulance to ferry my relative from Tura but no one was ready. The drivers said that by ferrying one passenger they cannot undergo such a lengthy quarantine. Therefore I had to manage an ambulance from Goalpara and pay a good amount for it," said another resident Lucky D Shira.
The handicaps of the healthcare ecosystem of the state are not just restricted to ambulances.Meanwhile, the Chief Minister tweeted a picture of a new ambulance on Tuesday, stating: "New ambulance under CM's Relief Fund being handed over to authorities by MLA of Selsella, Ferlin CA Sangma at Selsella CHC".He also tweeted a picture of ambulances for Ri-Bhoi district with the caption: "Nine ambulances and four supervisory vehicles were inaugurated in Ri-Bhoi. The vehicles were procured through funds from NITI Aayog as an award for the district's performance and ranking in different sectors."
The handicaps of the healthcare ecosystem of the state are not just restricted to ambulances. Incidentally the Meghalaya Government is likely to take one more year to provide better healthcare facilities in the state as most of the hospital projects are far from completion. Meanwhile, the Chief Minister reviewed the construction of Resubelpara's 100 bedded civil hospital funded by the State Plan Scheme last Thursday. Stating that the hospital construction is progressing as 30 percent of the work has already been completes, the Chief Minister shared, "I have directed the department and the contractors to speed up the work and ensure the project's completion by September 2021."
The Chief Minister also reviewed the ongoing work for the Tura Medical College funded by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. He informed that the project is 25% complete. He has directed all concerned authorities to ensure the completion of the Medical College by July 2021. The government has also proposed to construct a COVID Hospital in Tura funded by the North Eastern Council. In relation to this the Chief Minister wrote on Facebook, "2 acres of land has been identified. PWD has been instructed to prepare the DPR and issue the work order by November 2020. Target date of completion has been kept for 1 year from the date of the work order."The Chief Minister also assured that the 100-bed hospital in Mawkyrwat will be completed in the next 7-8 months to cater to the healthcare needs of the people
The government is also discussing the extension of the civil hospital at Baghmara which is a 2.4 crore project. The CM believes that the government will complete it in 18 months.
Now the question arises - In case of a major spike in COVID cases in the state, how prepared is the Meghalaya Government? Most of the hospitals are in the construction stage and it will take a year or more for completion, so is the state ready to deal with any eventualities?