Jammu and Kashmir health minister has confirmed that a rural posting is compulsory for government doctors in the state in order to provide better access to medical facilities for people living in far-flung areas.
"I have made a minimum posting of 10 years in rural areas compulsory for every doctor in the state or else they will not get service benefits at the time of retirement," Health Minister Sham Lal Sharma told IANS in an interview.
His department would focus on boosting rural healthcare in the state "so as to better serve the people of far-flung areas".
He noted that this was necessary to provide health services to poor people living in remote and mountainous areas and this step would decrease referral cases, thereby easing the burden on city hospitals.
The health minister said that his department was also making a list of those doctors who have not served in rural areas so far. "I have issued strict instructions to post such doctors in rural areas as soon as possible."
Sharma said that his department is mulling monetary benefits for doctors serving in remote and rural areas. "I feel that like the city compensatory allowance, which is 25 percent of the basic salary, there should be a rural compensatory allowance as well. We are working on this."
Jammu and Kashmir has more than 3,400 health institutions, over 5,800 doctors and 11,840 beds, 22 district hospitals, 85 sub-district hospitals/community health centres, 375 primary health centres, 238 allopathic dispensaries and 2,293 sub-centres.
"We have doctors as per the sanctioned strength, but we still need more as there is a gap of about 700 who are in medical education or are pursuing higher education. We have also asked for 500 doctors in leave reserve," the minister said.
The health sector has been enormously affected by militancy that erupted in 1990. Violence forced many doctors out of the state while others were reluctant to work in rural areas, where the danger of militants striking was much higher.
"It was a big challenge for the health sector to spring back. Now we are close to national health indicators and in some areas are even ahead," Sharma said with pride.
The life expectancy of males at birth in Jammu and Kashmir is 65 against 65.8 all-India and of females is 67 against 68.1 all-India. Full immunization in the state is 62.5 percent while the national indicator is 54 percent.
No polio case has been detected since 2006 while leprosy achieved the elimination level in March 2005.
The health minister stressed that efforts have been made for the 24x7 functioning of health institutions. "In the first instance, 375 primary health centres have been strengthened to make them 24x7. Similarly, 85 community health centres/sub-district hospitals have been strengthened to the level of first referral units."
"The district hospitals are being provided with machinery, equipment and specialised manpower so that their services are improved and brought at par with the state's tertiary-care institutions," Sharma said.
(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)