You have already seen the news about Runa Begum, a 17 month old baby girl from Agartala, Tripuara who suffers from Hydrocephalus, medical condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain leading to an abnormally large head circumference. It is reportedly a serious but largely correctable medical condition. The short story is that Runa, was born with this condition and only after recently her story along with pictures, circulated globally via media and online social networks, now she is being treated at an elite private hospital in Delhi, some 2000 kms from her hometown. This has been made possible only by private charity. However, cases such as these raise several questions on the state of our public health system.
Given that her head has swelled to 3 times the normal size, presumably the condition manifested at birth or even before. So why did it take 17 months of worsening complications and media reports for the family to receive medical attention? And that too by the private sector and/or charity.
News reports say that the family was denied treatment at the Government Medical College at Tripura as they could not produce documentation that they were ultra poor and such a surgery costs a lot of money. Moreover a ‘rare’ condition such as this required advanced medical care that was perhaps beyond the expertise of the Agartala hospital.
First, hydrocephalus although uncommon, is not really a rare disease as it affects 1 in 500 children born. Second, Agartala is not a village but the largest city in one of India’s 28 states. The Government medical college at Agartala there has a multi specialty hospital with clinics in Pediatrics Surgery and Neurology, all three specialties required for such a case. Moreover they are linked to many other hospitals through telemedicine, precisely to seek consultation on cases they are unable to handle. Despite all this neither were they able to treat a child with a potentially fatal condition for 17 months nor arrange treatment elsewhere? They merely let fluid accumulate in her head, which has now swelled to 90 cm, much larger than what is usually documented for this condition ( Images revealed by web search show much smaller heads)
Thankfully for Ranu, the visually stunning nature of hydrocephalus , caught the media’s eye and subsequent support poured in. However there may be thousands other less fortunate poor kids whose parents may not have documents to claim abject poverty, yet may be poor enough to not be able to afford any private hospital.
While we hope for Ranu’s recovery. the minimum I demand from the Health Ministry is to conduct an inquiry into why exactly was this case not treated by the hospital, which claims its vision as “To provide best Health Care facilities to the people of North-Eastern Region”!