Every year over 5,000 patients undergo specialised joint replacement surgeries, including knee joint, shoulder and hip joint replacements, according to the J&K Health Department. While many initially prefer getting this done at government medical colleges in Srinagar or Jammu, several moves to the metro cities due to the long waiting period.
The stories of 40-year-old Mohammad Younis and 33-year old Mohammer Tariq are similar. Residents of Rajouri and Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir, both were advised knee joint replacement surgery -- but the cost in a private hospital was prohibitive and the wait at a government hospital much too long. Younis had met with an accident in 2014 while Tariq had been suffering for four years. Both were on medication.
They found succour in mid-December thanks to a state government initiative to encourage specialist doctors to return to the state and the surgical process being subsidised. Thus, the operations at the Udhampur district hospital cost the duo Rs 50,000 each - just the cost of the implant, with the state government picking up the remaining tag.
As the initiative is at the initial stage in district hospitals, high-end orthopedic surgeries are being performed only at Udhampur under the leadership of Dr Balvinder Singh, a senior orthopedic surgeon from Delhi's Safdarjung hospital, who quit his lucrative job early this year to return to the state.
"This is a boon for patients like me who were reluctant to undergo knee replacement surgery despite doctors recommending this to us years back. While till now most of the disrict hospitals treated only minor health issues, the initiation of the replacement procedure has not just saved our money and health but also revived the district hospitals," Younis said, who underwent the surgery on December 15.
He said while district hospitals have an arrangement for diagnostics, neither the manpower nor the infrastructure had supported high-end surgeries.
"Such initiatives will revive the district hospitals and also decrease the patient burden on major government hospitals in Jammu and Srinagar, where patients have to wait long to get their orthopedic surgeries done. The initiation of high-end orthopedic surgeries will not just help civilians but also be a boon for paramilitary personnel, who now will have facilities for joint-related surgeries in the district hospitals," Balvinder Singh told IANS.
Stating that in the last one week, six joint replacement surgeries have been performed at the Udhampur district hospital, Singh informed that all of them were knee joint replacements and he will soon start shoulder joint surgeries that require a greater degree of skill.
"This initiative will not just reduce the distance hurdle as people won't have to travel out of the state; they also have to pay much less for the surgeries. The patients are only charged for the implants," said Singh. Despite the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority capping the prices of knee joint implants, many private hospitals continue to charge exorbitantly for the procedure.
According to Health Minister Bhagat, the initiative was launched from Udhampur as its district hospital was declared the best in the state under the Centre's Kaya Kalp initiative for public health facilities.
Udhampur is Jammu and Kashmir's fourth-largest city and is the district's headquarters. Encircled by lush green eucalyptus trees, the city rests on the foothills of the Shivalik ranges, which are part of the mighty Himalayas. Udhampur is also the Indian Army's Northern Command headquarters and forms an important transit point between Jammu and Srinagar.