The next time you visit an X-ray clinic or any other radio-diagnostic centre, make sure you check for AERB certification. Chances are that most of these clinics do not have this mandatory approval to run radiation equipment and are, hence, functioning illegally.
Jharkhand is one of the many states across India that is yet to set up a Directorate of Radiation Safety (DRS) under the country’s nuclear watchdog Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to ensure that the emission level of various radiological equipment used by medical and diagnostic facilities is safe.
According to rough statistics — the government lacks a mechanism to furnish an exact number — the state has some 3,500 X-ray and radio-diagnostic centres, more than 100 of them in capital Ranchi alone. And, arguably, not even 10 per cent of these clinics are AERB certified in the absence of the implementing directorate.
In 2001, the Supreme Court had ordered setting up of these state-level monitors for effective regulation of radiology clinics so that overexposure or radiation leak did not take long-term toll on the health of an unsuspecting patient.
The order said the DRS, governed by AERB, would ensure proper implementation of the Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules, 2004, that includes granting registration to radiology clinics that have procured AERB-approved equipment, continuous monitoring and also closure of illegal units.
So far, only Kerala and Mizoram seem to have adhered to the 11-year-old directive by setting up DRS, although the AERB is learnt to have signed MoUs with many other state such as Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha. An MoU with Bihar is said to be in the offing.
A few days ago, Union government representatives in Parliament admitted that more than 90 per cent X-ray and diagnostic clinics in the country hadn’t applied for certification so far.
Ranchi civil surgeon D.K. Singh drew a blank when quizzed on safety of mushrooming X-ray clinics in the district.
“We have records of ultrasound clinics under the PCPNDT (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act. We are obtaining monthly records,” he said out of context.
Does his office probe whether X-ray clinics have AERB certified equipment?
“I don’t think there is any mechanism (for such inspection) at the moment. At least, it is not in my knowledge. I have to find out from my higher-ups about AERB or DRS,” he was suitably ignorant.
State health director Praveen Chandra echoed Singh on the safety of radiological facilities. Regarding DRS, he conceded that Jharkhand had failed to set up one so far. “But, we have initiated the process for identification of posts and preparing proposals to sanction them,” he said vaguely.
Things are understandably at a very nascent stage.
According to Dr Chandra Mohan, the head of Park X-ray and Ultrasound Clinic on Radium Road, “lack of government initiative and awareness” were reasons for mass ignorance. He claimed he had to obtain AERB certification from Mumbai for equipment in his clinic.
“There is no radiation monitor (read DRS) in Jharkhand. Getting an approval from Mumbai is a lengthy and cumbersome process, which all clinic owners won’t do. Besides, most X-ray facilities are owned by profit-driven businessmen, not doctors,” Mohan said.
Have you ever visited an X-ray clinic that has no approval?