Imphal, Apr 11 : A crippled health service and severe paucity of medicines has forced Myanmar nationals for years to illegally come to Imphal for treatment after crossing the highly porous border at Moreh in Manipur.
The problem is that while a Myanmar national is permitted to enter India without a visa and travel up to 18 km, this permission does not cover Imphal.
Now the Centre, on the behest of the state government, is working out a special Visa on arrival system for Myanmar nationals who want to visit Imphal specifically for medical treatment. Earlier this month, a delegation representing the Myanmar government visited Imphal on a goodwill tour and discussed the issue of 'health visas'.
"We have been pushing for visa on arrival for Myanmar nationals because of their request and it also benefits our healthcare industry. While the Ministry of External Affairs has already given an in-principal approval, the matter is pending with the Ministry of Home affairs,'' said Chief Secretary, Manipur, D S Poonia who met the Foreign Secretary last week regarding the matter.
The delegation from Myanmar belonged to Sagaing district, neighbouring Manipur. A team of the Bureau of Immigration has visited Moreh last week to inspect the possibility of setting up a customs counter. The delegation also visited Imphal's Shija Hospital which has been running cleft palate clinics at the border.
Says Dr Kh Palin, director and owner of Shija Hospital, "On April 4, our hospital received 56 patients from Myanmar. A week before we received 39 patients. These patients are mostly from Sagaing where there are practically no health facilities. They came for a wide range of treatment — 40 per cent for diagnosis, 30 per cent were surgical patients and the rest for ENT and gynecological problems. There were a large number of patients suffering from Hepatitis C. These patients cannot afford to go to Thailand or Singapore."
The patients and their families risk the possibility of being caught or imprisoned to come to Imphal, he says. "Their travelling to my hospital is illegal. They bribe officials — be it the police or personnel of the Assam Rifles. Sometimes, they pay as hefty a bribe as Rs 5,000,'' says Palin, adding that even Mandalay has poor medical facilities.
However DGP, Manipur, Y Joykumar Singh says, "I don't agree with the allegation that the police take bribes. When we find that the Myanmar nationals are patients, we let them in on humanitarian grounds. This is a matter for the government to resolve." Palin, along with a team of Manipur officials, will visit Sagaing's capital Mongya this month to assess the possibility of setting up camps.