UP’s healthcare hub facade built by regime’s friends in the news media?

Media outlets perceived to be close to the regime appear to be working overtime to create positive image despite official data pointing to very different ground realities

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A section of the news media, that either has strong right-wing leanings, or is perceived to be close to the regime, appears to have taken it upon itself to push Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s claims of turning the state into a “healthcare hub”. Following the state government’s boasts in late-November, media-houses sites like Zee News, e-Health, the Hindustan Times have repeatedly endorsed the idea that ‘UP is becoming a medical hub with the Centre’s assistance’.

“Committed to provide better medical facilities to the people of Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi government is rapidly enhancing the health facilities in the state,” said Zee News while talking about the administration’s “one district one medical college” policy.

According to the article, the state government by December 12, 2021 opened two All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Gorakhpur and Rae Bareli that have already started out patient services. The publication further highlighted that the BJP had established private or government medical colleges in 16 districts that previously did not have this facility during the tenure of “other governments”.

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Yet, despite pointing out the shortcomings of previous governments, the article did not comment on the sudden influx of viral fever cases around September. Approximately 200 people were diagnosed with dengue-like symptoms of which 100-150 were young children. Between September 10 and September 25, as many as 84 children suffered encephalitis in the Purvanchal region. Parents grieved their children’s death outside hospitals because they were unable to find vacant beds in nearby hospitals.

Still the Hindustan Times on November 21 did not challenge Adityanath’s claim that all 75 districts “are well equipped with ICU beds, 1.80 lakh emergency beds, and [that] 518 oxygen plants have also become operational.”

It is worth asking the government whether these plants became operational following the second-wave of Covid-19, when people were resorting to social media to avail oxygen cylinders. At the time, the Yogi-government had threatened citizens with arrests and FIRs if they “spread panic” regarding the pandemic by enquiring about oxygen supplies or storage capacity via the internet.

A CAG report on 2019 state functioning in particular condemned the government for their “lackadaisical approach [that] resulted in unfruitful expenditure of Rs. 1.88 crore on procurement of Central Oxygen System (COS), which could not be made operational even after a lapse of more than 8-10 years.”

The report said that the release of full payment to suppliers without getting the COS operational, the failure to ensure preventive maintenance of supplied equipment and no training to hospital staff for use of the system and failure to have timely conversations with the suppliers led to the huge fiscal waste. It also pointed out how the concerned District Hospital in Agra continued to depend on small cylinders because the COS was lying non-functional until 2020, despite government assurances as far back as December 2017.

During the Lok Bhavan speech, the Chief Minister said that the government built 33 medical colleges in the last four-and-a-half years, out of which nine medical colleges have become operational. Even so, these claims fall flat on recollecting that citizens found no vacant beds in their area despite contrary information on government portal.

The recent CAG report also showed how the Medical Health and Family Welfare Department failed to impose a penalty of Rs. 6.17 crore on non-supply of medicines/drugs resulting in undue benefit to suppliers coupled with the risk of inadequate patient treatment.

Unfazed by all this, the e-Health website on November 26 spoke about how “sustained efforts” of the BJP government led to less malnourished children as per the National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS-5).

“Due to the relentless efforts of the state government, UP has shown considerable progress in the National Family Health Survey-5,” said the report.

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In fact, the data showed that 7.3 percent of children under 5 years are severely wasted while 3.1 percent of children of the same age-group are overweight. In the NFHS-4 report, 6 percent children from the same age-group were severely wasted and 1.5 percent were obese. In general, obesity among adult women increased from 16.5 percent in 2015-16 to 21.3 percent in 2019-21. Similarly, obesity among men increased from 12.5 percent in 2015-16 to 18.5 percent in 2019-21.

The report also went on to note how 66.4 percent children between 6-59 months are anaemic as compared to 63.2 percent in the previous report.

Regarding health-related information, the NFHS-5 reported that 13.1 percent women and 22.1 percent men have comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS – less than the 17.5 percent women and 26.2 percent men who were informed about the same in 2015-16.

As UP elections 2022 draw closer, the state government, and their stooges in the news media, have jumped into action singing praises about the administrative work in the state so far. However, data and on-ground reports indicate otherwise.

Anganwadi workers and ASHAs, who acted as the backbone of the entire healthcare system during the global pandemic are yet to receive their dues. As the second wave of coronavirus subsided, ASHAs observed a nationwide campaign to demand their dues. However, like the workers in other states, their demands remain unnoticed. Instead, the state nowadays witnesses more protests by farmers and teachers, indicating that after the health sector, workers from other social sectors have begun voicing their apprehension about the state government functioning.


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