Does Meghalaya have enough health resources to survive a COVID crisis?

Meghalaya allocated Rs. 820 crore towards health for the 2021-22 budget. In the budget presentation, the government iterated on spending towards early childcare, maternal health and immunization, and strengthening hospital and clinic infrastructure.


By Ibankyntiew Mawrie


The second wave of the COVID crisis has left devastating effects across India, with health resource shortages, such as a lack of oxygen cylinders and hospital beds, leaving people and public authorities helpless.

For Meghalaya, with the state currently facing high spikes of active cases and insufficient vaccination turnouts, the government has spelt concerns on various occasions with regards to the state’s readiness in battling the virus, even highlighting that the state could touch five thousand active cases by mid-May.

Meghalaya allocated Rs. 820 crore towards health for the 2021-22 budget. In the budget presentation, the government iterated on spending towards early childcare, maternal health and immunization, and strengthening hospital and clinic infrastructure.

Although 820 crores is a comparatively low budget, but Meghalaya’s per capita health expenditure is still on the higher side as compared to the national average. 

According to a World bank report for ‘Meghalaya Health Systems Strengthening Project,’ per capita expenditure of the state on health was less than half of other smaller northeastern states like Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, but significantly higher than the national average. 

Total health expenditure as a share of the total state expenditure stood at 6.73 per cent, higher than the 6.3 per cent average of northeastern states.

However, even though the health budget has not yet shown any signs of reaching a critical point, the state has expressed concerns with regards to procurement costs associated with the COVID virus, with the added burden of vaccination figures in the state remaining dismal so far.

The state needs to spend Rs. 90 crore for procuring 30 lakh doses of the vaccine, covering a major part of the state’s population. So far, orders have been placed for 42,000 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India, for vaccinating individuals above the age of 18. 

Even with these efforts, when national supply is reaching a bottleneck due to high demands, recently East Khasi Hills district Deputy Commissioner highlighted that vaccine turnouts have been quite low. 

With the population, therefore, staying at risk of not being vaccinated, the immediate cause of concern becomes the availability of hospital infrastructure and treatment.

As far as private hospitals are concerned, Health Minister AL Hek had earlier stated that there are 25 oxygen supported beds and six Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in Nazareth Hospital, 30 oxygen supported beds and seven ICU beds in Dr H. Gordon Rangad Hospital in Shillong. 

The total number of oxygen supported beds in Meghalaya is 609, with 65 ICU beds. 

This total is alarming given the size of the population in Meghalaya. As per the 2011 Census, the total population of the state stood at about 30 lakhs, which has grown by a few lakhs to date.

This creates the necessity for more resources to somewhat support the existing health infrastructure. As of now, Meghalaya is setting up eight oxygen plants across the state - three from the PM CARES funds, another three from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and two from the state government.

At present, the only hospitals that have their own medical oxygen concentrator and compressor are North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS) and Nazareth Hospital in Shillong.

“In addition to that, in view of the pandemic, six more oxygen generation plants are coming up in six different hospitals,” Meghalaya Principal Health Secretary Sampath Kumar told The Northeast Today (TNT).

“We require mobility lockdown otherwise we will face a major problem. We have to remind ourselves that there is a limitation, be it oxygen cylinders or hospital beds,” Kumar said.

He informed that at present, Meghalaya has 3400 oxygen cylinders and the government is procuring another 2000, the same of which is yet to be delivered. 

“There is an acute shortage of oxygen supply. There is so much demand and supply is limited,” he said. 

“We are ramping up the additional facilities. Byrnihat Oxygen Plant has assured us to provide a maximum capacity of 300 medical cylinders per day,” the health secretary added. 

Meghalaya has already exceeded 50 per cent of the bed capacity due to the spike in COVID cases in the recent weeks. As of May 4, the state has registered 339 fresh cases, the highest single-day spike, taking the cumulative positive cases to 18,014 with 15,180 recoveries and 185 deaths. 

To limit the spread, the government had announced a 10-day containment in urban areas of Shillong, Jowai, Tura and Nongpoh, which came into effect on May 1. 

The state government recently maintained that it is not considering a total lockdown option. However, Kumar told TNT that if there was a choice then a lockdown should be opted for because the on-ground situations show that the scenario is deteriorating.

“It takes time to assess the behaviour. Containment is generally asked for 14 days, but we have imposed it for ten days. After that, we will observe the data and decide accordingly,” he said.

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