Sunday, Aug 13, 2023

‘I’ve left it to God’: Imphal out of reach for many, Manipur’s healthcare system is faltering

A visit to Churachandpur district hospital highlights glaring issues – from lack of specialists to stretched facilities

manipur healthcareChinkhoneng and her husband at a relief camp. She is receiving treatment for breast cancer. (Express Photo: Sukrita Baruah)
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‘I’ve left it to God’: Imphal out of reach for many, Manipur’s healthcare system is faltering
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In a state where the healthcare system is heavily concentrated in and dependent on the capital, patients in Manipur who have lost access to Imphal because of the ethnic divide have been hit hard.

Both tertiary government hospitals in the state are located in Imphal: the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital run by the state government and the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital run by the Centre. Top private hospitals such as Shija Hospitals and Research Institute and Raj Medicity are also located in the capital, which is dominated by Meiteis and currently out of reach for the Kuki-Zomi community, which has a larger presence in the hills.

Churachandpur District Hospital Churachandpur District Hospital. (Express photo: Sukrita Baruah)

Outside of the valley, the biggest state-run hospital is Churachandpur District Hospital, located in the heart of the Kuki-Zomi dominated town. Though just a one-hour drive from Imphal in normal times, doctors in the hospital and patients in the town say they have never been more separated from resources in the capital.

“There were things that we were lacking here but because Imphal was so near, we never truly felt it. Now it’s become so evident,” said Dr Biakdiki, a senior doctor in the district hospital.

When The Indian Express visited, the hospital was swamped with patients during OPD timings, but the real crisis, doctors said, was a lack of specialists. Many of the superspecialists, including the oncologist, who would visit the hospital a few times a week were Meiteis based in Imphal.

Now, patients who need specialised care and treatment are having to look outside the state, the closest destination being Mizoram capital Aizawl, a journey of over 12 hours on difficult hill roads. According to doctors in the hospital, six patients who had received bullet injuries in the chest during the course of the conflict had been airlifted to Guwahati due to lack of facilities for cardio-thoracic surgery.

The civil hospital in Kangpokpi, another Kuki-dominated area, has even more limited facilities, but residents have relatively easier access to the nearest capital – Kohima in Nagaland is a three-hour drive away.


But seeking treatment elsewhere isn’t a luxury everyone can afford. Rolianpuii, 54, had been diagnosed with breast cancer this January and had a mastectomy in RIMS Hospital in Imphal in March. She had started her chemotherapy treatment there and had completed two sessions before the violence broke out in May. She had six sessions remaining, but gave up on pursuing other options.

manipur cancer patient Rolianpuii had to give up cancer treatment midway. (Express Photo: Sukrita Baruah)

“I am just too weak after the sessions; just the thought of travelling up and down from Aizawl is too much for me. It will not be physically possible. And it is not financially possible to stay in Aizawl for the course of the treatment. So I’ve decided to rely on the grace of God,” she said, speaking in her home in Churachandpur town where she lives supported by her two children, a weaver and a school teacher.

Some others who have sought treatment have done so at great costs. Chinkhoneng, 47, and her husband Jamkothang had moved into a relief camp in a school in the town on May 9, leaving their village at the district’s border with Bishnupur. She too is a breast cancer patient and had four sessions of chemotherapy remaining in Imphal when the violence broke out. Her family decided to take matters into their own hands – they purchased drugs from Aizawl and had the treatment administered in Churachandpur by a nurse who had been trained in Imphal. The expenses for this, said Jamkothang, who reared goats in the village, cost them Rs 67,000 – everything they had.

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The hospital in Churachandpur is currently lacking in even the most basic needs, including a mechanism to dispose of biomedical waste. Without its own incinerator, waste from the hospital would be carried to Imphal twice a week where it would be disposed of. Now, doctors say the hospital is making do with “substandard” means.

manipur hospital The hospital in Churachandpur is currently lacking in even the most basic needs. (Express Photo: Sukrita Baruah)

The conflict has also meant several staff of the hospital have been displaced – of 60 specialists and medical officers in the hospital, 16 were Meiteis who had to leave the district. Even its dialysis centre became defunct for a few days during the start of the conflict because the technician was from Imphal. Now, a paid volunteer administers dialysis to the 25 patients who depend on it, but the centre cannot support any additional patients.

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So, Lalzuiliani (32), a police constable from the town who used to travel to Imphal thrice a week for dialysis, decided to leave the town on May 5 to go to Aizawl and get the procedure done. “I had to leave then; I can’t miss it a single time. Because the local hospital does not have enough equipment to support me in addition to its regular patients, I have been staying in a rented house in Aizawl so that I can continue the procedure thrice a week. My supervisors have been very understanding. Till things are resolved, I don’t see how I can leave,” she said.

First published on: 12-08-2023 at 08:52 IST
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