The three tertiary hospitals, 16 peripheral hospitals under the BMC, and the state-run hospitals are the most easily accessible treatment centres in the city, where treatment is provided at subsidised rates. However, it appears that the most of these centres have ignored the need to follow a systematic protocol when it comes to collecting samples or crucial information from rape victims.
For years now, error-free collection of samples and their foolproof storage in one compact container – the rape kit – had been the onus of an NGO, the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (Cehat). Members of the organisation have been fighting a losing battle trying to convince authorities in the government of Maharashtra and the state health department to set up specific protocol for treatment of physical injuries in rape victims, as well as prophylaxis and testing for sexually transmitted infections at all government and BMC hospitals. But their efforts have yielded no significant response.
Cehat started working with the BMC in 2000, training several doctors for examination of rape victims and sample collection for evidence. It was Cehat that introduced to BMC hospitals the concept of ‘rape kits’, the guidelines for which were set down by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This kit comes with equipment necessary for sample collection, space to store them in one container, and a manual of proper use.
Only three peripheral hospitals, including the Bhabha hospital, are now equipped with rape kits and trained medical staff. However, after the process was initiated in 2008, there has been a lukewarm response from state run hospitals to implement the protocols or train medical staff.
Sana Contractor of Cehat said, “Little is done across the country in terms of treatment for rape survivors. The focus is on the medico-legal aspect of the examination. There is an absence of psychosocial support. There is no uniform protocol in providing treatment to rape victims.”
Contractor confirmed that at present, only three peripheral hospitals are stocked with rape kits. A minimum of five such kits is maintained at each of these hospitals. When only two kits remain, the authorities contact Cehat, which then supplies fresh kits.
The civic-run teaching hospitals — Sion, KEM and Nair — collect samples using their own methods.
A source from the NGO said that while the rape kit is merely a box that facilitates the storage of collected samples safely in one container, the grimmer issue is that doctors at most BMC and state-run hospitals need to be given specific training to handle rape victims. The doctors are also reluctant to ask them questions that play a crucial role in determining the nature and history of sexual assault inflicted on them.
A gynaecologist from one of the teaching hospitals claimed that while the hospital has ‘run out’ of rape kits, its doctors are well prepared to collect samples from victims, and place them in separate envelopes to be sent to the forensic department.
Dr Seema Malik, BMC’s in-charge of peripheral hospitals, said, “It is not mandatory for all hospitals to have rape kits with them. Doctors at our hospitals are prepared to conduct medical examination of rape victims. Regarding the efforts made by an NGO in convincing the BMC to set up protocols, there are protocols that have already been implemented for doctors examining rape victims and collecting swab samples.”