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AIIMS in T.N.: Much ado about something

A super specialty medical institution will add much value to health care, but there is a danger politics may derail process

In Tamil Nadu, where the current political scenario renders most decisions contentious, it is not surprising that the decision on locating an AIIMS-like institution within the State has run into several inexplicable roadblocks.

The bone of contention now, between political rivals, is whether due process was followed by the State government in recommending one site among the five that had been shortlisted as having the potential to host an institution of the calibre of AIIMS. The charge is that Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami had recommended Sengipatti, in Thanjavur, to the Prime Minister, as recently revealed in the Assembly proceedings. However, health officials claimed that the Chief Minister was only acting on the basis of an informal communication from the Centre that Sengipatti had indeed been chosen by them as the final site for locating the institution.

Some MLAs coming from the Madurai region have taken umbrage at a Thanjavur location being chosen. It is learnt, however, that the choice of Sengipatti was based primarily on the lack of tertiary health care facilities in the surrounding areas and the possibility that 200 acres of land can be set apart quickly. According to the media, in Thoppur, Madurai, the government could identify 198.27 acres, but a pipeline running through the land was a problem.

It must be said that Thanjavur is already served by a large tertiary institution, the Thanjavur Government Medical College. But a positive for Sengipatti is that it is surrounded by Ariyalur, Perambalur and Tiruchi districts, which could benefit from another high quality facility in Thanjavur district.

A prestige issue

But why this fracas? Do States actually benefit out of such AIIMS institutions, or is the issue being vitiated by a misplaced turf battle?

A former Director of Medical Education argues that in Tamil Nadu where tertiary care facilities are well established in most districts, it would make sense to locate the AIIMS institution in an area that is lacking in such facilities currently. No doubt, he added, the facilities will be good and extremely affordable in the institution.

S. Elango, former Director of Public Health, brings yet another perspective that helps one understand where the populist hankering for an AIIMS comes from. “AIIMS institutes have high standards in education, research, training, and service. Tertiary care, especially for the critically ill, would be above par and extremely affordable. An AIIMS in T.N. could easily be the gold standard. It perhaps has the place that IIT has in engineering education and research. Why would someone not want an IIT located in their vicinity?”

Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan says that it was only in March that the State was informed of the Centre’s decision to adopt the Challenge Method to pick a site. “We were asked for certain parameters. We have provided all of them to the Centre.”

Like Rome, medical institutions are not built in a day, and the State waits eagerly for the day it can start work on a state-of-the-art tertiary care set-up. Politics, which compels the playing out of many dramas, will hopefully not derail projects that can truly benefit the community.


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