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Doctors in Bihar: Efforts to increase numbers

Doctors in Bihar, Patna 2012. By Ghajinidetails. Ghajinidetails [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (
Doctors gathered in Patna, Bihar in 2012. 
Efforts are underway to increase the number of doctors in Bihar to address its shortage, with both the National Health Mission (NHM) and the state government taking steps to plug the gap. 

The state health department is aiming to recruit 2,425 doctors to staff government hospitals, as the state’s public health infrastructure grapples with a major shortage of medicos. In addition, the department will aim to recruit 4,000 medical officers and 9,130 nurses. 

India’s doctor-patient ratio stands at one for every 11,082 people. In Bihar, the ratio is one for every 17,685 (although state government figures put the figure at one for every 3,207 people). Either figure means Bihar has not met the World Health Organization (WHO) prescription of one doctor for every thousand people. This is on top of shortages of 1,210 sub-centres, 131 primary health centres (PHCs), and 389 community health centres (CHCs).

Bihar’s doctor shortage extends to specialist positions, which is what the NHM is seeking to address. Figures released by the Union Health Ministry earlier this year revealed an 86 percent shortfall of specialist doctors in the state, compared to the national deficit of 82 percent. 

Perhaps the most glaring example of these inadequacies in the state’s public health infrastructure manifesting in tragedy due to substandard care was the outbreak of child deaths in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district earlier this year. More than 150 children died due to encephalitis and hypoglycaemia, exacerbated by malnourishment. However, difficulty accessing care due to shortfalls were also flagged. 

A plea filed before the Supreme Court highlighted the “acute shortage of doctors, medical facilities, intensive care units and other medical equipments in the hospitals in nearby areas” – going on to assert that “children are dying in hospitals due to lack of required facilities.” The National Human Rights Commission castigated the “deplorable” state of public health infrastructure in the state. 

To address the shortage of specialists in the state, the NHM will be recruiting 701 doctors on contract – in particular to staff regions where medical professionals are reluctant to work. To incentivise applicants, the department will pay the doctors “handsomely” according to one official, with the salary pegged between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2 lakh per month. Other benefits will include allowances depending on the area where they are posted and performance-related incentives. 

Health department principal secretary Sanjay Kumar has said the process will be completed within three months. 

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