The Meghalaya High Court on Tuesday expressed concern over the health infrastructure in the state stressing that it requires considerable improvement by the administration.

Disposing of a PIL, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Judge W Diengdoh observed that the focus in the PIL was the perceived spurt in neo-natal deaths and death of women at the time of delivery during the lockdown period. The petition also speaks of the general lack of medical facilities for delivery and neo-natal care.

The primary prayer in the petition is for the constitution of a high-level committee of medical experts from outside the state to investigate into the deaths in respect of women and children from April, 2020 and for the officials responsible to be identified.

“There is no doubt that the healthcare facilities in the State require considerable improvement and adequate attention in such regard may not have been given by the administration. It is also evident from the figures relied upon by the State that infant mortality in the State was at a high level and facilities for neo-natal care were limited.

Following the initial lockdown being declared in March, 2020 during the first surge of the pandemic and even during the second surge of the pandemic in 2021, facilities for delivery and neo-natal care suffered,” the court observed.

The state has furnished figures from which it appears that death of women in course of delivery went up from 59 in April-July, 2019 to 63 in April-July, 2020 and as for the death of infants, the figure for the relevant period in 2019 was 265 and it shot up to 390 during the corresponding period of 2020. Neo-natal deaths numbered 425 between April and July, 2019 and the figure rose to 486 between April and July, 2020.

Several other persons with chronic ailments, including diseases pertaining to the heart, kidney and even cancer, suffered during the lockdown periods, in particular, as the focus of the state was on dealing with the pandemic.

The court noted that unless there was an emergency, the instances of surgery were much less during the lockdown period and such was the general situation not only in the state but across the country.

“With the pandemic now waning, things have come back to the previous normal but the petitioner quite rightly submits that the previous normal is not an acceptable position and a lot more is required of the State,” the Court stated.

It stated that no witch-hunting is called for on the basis of what the petitioner brings to court by way of the PIL.

“The State has committed to expending eight per cent of its budgetary allocation for health-care. It is also necessary to set up facilities in the rural areas and super specialty hospitals dealing with particular kinds of ailments. The State lacks a cancer hospital and a rudimentary wing has been set up at the Civil Hospital in Shillong with the sophisticated equipment still not available there. There is no doubt that such matter will engage the attention of the policy-makers in the State so as to provide better health-care to the citizens here,” the court stated.

On the basis of the material available, it would not be prudent to engage in an exercise to get outside experts into the state without any basis or guarantee as to whether the cost involved for such purpose would ultimately be justified.

The court pointed out that it is unfortunate that even after 75 years of independence, infant and child mortality rates both in the state and nationally are well above the desired level.

“It is also unfortunate that the rudimentary care that a woman needs at the time of delivery may not always be available in the State or accessible to many. It is hoped that these aspects are taken care of by the administration,” the court stated.

The court expressed its gratitude to the petitioner for bringing a matter of eminent public interest to its notice.

“It will be open to the petitioner and other like persons to institute fresh proceedings after the lapse of a reasonable time, if the health-care facilities in the State do not improve,” the Court said.