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Fortis hope for Tripura infant

- Outside state ‘referral’ bares state’s health service plight

Agartala, April 18: A Gurgaon-based private hospital’s humanitarian gesture may just turn out to be a lifesaver for 18-month-old hydrocephalus-afflicted Roona Beg-um whose condition and the helplessness of local doctors in ameliorating it has again highlighted the dismal healthcare scenario in Tripura.

Roona was born at IGM Hospital here in December 2011 with an abnormally large head and was suffering from hydrocephalus — a medical condition involving abnormal accumulation of cerebro-spinal fluid in the ventricles, or cavities, of the brain, which may cause increased intracranial pressure inside the skull and progressive enlargement of the head, convulsion, tunnel vision and mental disability that can also lead to death.

When her head continued to grow in size — currently, its circumference is 91cm (36 inches) — local doctors told her parents, Abdul Rahman, 36, and Fatema Khatun, 25, that their daughter could only be treated in a hospital with advanced healthcare facilities in Calcutta or any other metro. But Rahman, an impoverished brick kiln worker, could only pray for a miracle.

As the news spread, Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Arindam Dey, 24, traced the family to Jirania Khola area in Jirania subdivision a few days ago. His photographs were subsequently released by the agency with a small story and this caught the attention of authorities at Fortis Hospital, Gurgaon. The hospital then sent air tickets to Roona’s family and flew them over to Gurgaon, where the infant is currently undergoing free treatment.

Dr Sandeep Vaishya, head of neurosurgery at Fortis, said the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes in the US had found that one in every 500 newborn infants might develop this condition. “The common manifestation of the disease is build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, putting pressure on it and creating other complications,” he said. He added that the most common treatment was surgical insertion of a shunt system to divert the fluid to another part of the body to ease the pressure on the brain. The diverted fluid is easily assimilated in the blood stream.

“The surgical intervention is not that risky. It can be easily carried out and costs Rs 1.25 lakh. But in this case, we will be doing it gratis,” he said.

Roona’s mother, Fatema, however, told The Telegraph over phone that her daughter was growing weaker and thinner, with bouts of coughing and vomiting, though doctors were still hopeful.

The infant’s plight has yet again brought into focus the pathetic condition of healthcare services in the state despite the state government’s tall claims. This is evident from the fact that doctors here were absolutely clueless about what Roona was suffering from after her birth and finally advised her parents to take her outside the state.

“Even now, treatment of neurological problems is not possible here, nor is heart surgery or organ transplants. Many people go to Calcutta, Vellore or Bangalore daily to save their lives. Healthcare services here need major improvement,” said retired doctor Jagannath Sarkar.

Citing an instance, Sarkar said recently, senior cardiologist Dr Pradip Bhowmik himself had to rush to AIIMS for treatment. Bhowmik had been diagnosed with gastroenteritis here but doctors at the institute found tapeworm in his brain. “He had contracted it as he was a voracious pork eater and had he not gone to Delhi, he might have died,” Sarkar said.

Moreover, in 2011, incumbent health minister Tapan Chakraborty had lost his only son, Tuhin, following wrong treatment here. “Tuhin had been treated here for a long time for gastroenteritis. When his condition deteriorated, he was taken to AIIMS, where he was diagnosed with hepatitis A. The doctors there could do precious little to save the 23-year-old. This is the state of healthcare services here,” Sarkar said, adding that though slightly advanced treatment was available now in a private hospital here, “the treatment is prohibitively expensive and beyond the reach of common people”.