When they say that India lives in the villages, 'they' are not completely wrong! Even though the country has undergone a major process of urbanisation, there are still a large number of people who live in rural areas. Life in metro cities might be all bright lights and modern amenities, but the people in the villages and rural areas are still struggling with a range of problems, healthcare being one of them. The government might give healthcare high prominence, it is not able to completely filter down to the smallest villages and hamlets, often creating crises in such areas.
What are the problems that are plaguing rural and community health
More than half the population of India still resides in non-urban areas and many of them still do not have access to the kind of healthcare they need or deserve. There are several reasons for the same and because of these reasons, there are several problems that tend to crop up as well, creating a vicious cycle.
Let's start with why these problems exist?
- The social and economic factors: For most part, regular healthcare can prove to be quite expensive and while there is a rise in community health initiatives, there are still very few medical centres in rural areas, where the poorest of poor can head for treatment and medical advice. If there is a primary health centre in the vicinity for them, it might not have personnel or equipment to treat anything more than basic health conditions. To head to a private hospital would mean extremely high financial burdens, which could mean that in order to pay the bills, the person either needs to beg, borrow or sell! The condition is often worse for women - they are either reluctant about going to a hospital, talk about their health conditions or are neglected, because their health might not take precedence over that of the male gender.
- The infrastructure factors: There is a very strong need to locate solutions for the medical market that are not only economical for the people, but also somewhat profitable for those who are running it. There is a serious dearth of proper medical infrastructure, especially in the rural belts. While the building might be standing, the equipment needed to run the centre might be missing. An early step that needs to be taken while trying to build sustainable communities has to be to provide proper medical infrastructures, even in the smallest areas. There also need to be methods in place that allow for the maintenance of basic medical records and data, because a patient's medical history has an important role to play in future treatments.
- Personnel related factors: Perhaps the biggest problem related to healthcare in rural areas is the lack of qualified and trained medical professionals. If one were to compare against the guidelines established for any medical centre, one would observe that the numbers are not being met. Several primary health centres would not have a doctor at all - several centres had no gynaecologists or paediatricians, which are probably the most required doctors in rural areas. There has also been observed that there is a dearth of non-doctors, such as lab technicians and pharmacists.
After the why, let's take a look at the further set of problems that arise
- When there are no medical facilities in the immediate or at least the close by vicinity, there is no option for the people but to head to a private medical centre, where the costs will be incredibly high. In case they are looking for a government or community health management centre, they might have to travel a really long distance, the cost of which will have to be borne by them only. Many times, having to travel the distance can aggravate the health condition or lead to a major deterioration in the situation.
- The need for community health improvement also resonates in the lack of infrastructure - even the most talented doctors might not be able to do much, without the right equipment and machines.
- The lack of qualified and experienced personnel probably has the maximum repercussions - unqualified or underqualified medical professionals could provide not only an incomplete diagnosis, but in the worst-case scenarios, the wrong diagnosis too. When there is no pharmacist, the chances of handing out incorrect medication is a strong possibility.
- With no access to specialist doctors such as surgeons, gynaecologists and paediatricians, a large percentage of the population does not receive the kind of assistance they actually need. The escalation of maternal and infant mortality rates remains prominent mainly due to such issues.
How do NGOs come into the picture and offer assistance
When it comes to reinforcing the importance of community health, NGOs have a huge role to play - not only are they able to access parts of the country, where the government might not be able to reach immediately, but also help build a sustainable environment, wherein people from the rural areas understand the need for proper medical attention.
This is what NGOs are currently doing:
- They are creating a general awareness about the importance of community health - rather than heading to local quacks or practitioners of baseless medicine, which is often the resort of rural residents, there is an encouragement to seek proper and professional medical opinions.
- Volunteers with such NGOs often talk to locals, educating them about the importance of leaving religious and social misbeliefs aside and understanding the benefits of modern medicine. This could vary from having their delivery under proper medical supervision, vaccination for their children and seeking assistance for any and all medical conditions.
- For many people in villages, especially children, it is malnutrition that is one of the biggest problems, and when volunteers from NGOs talk to locals, they are able to teach the parents the importance of a balanced and nutritious meal.
- Through modern methods, such as telephone and internet, they are trying to reach out to a much larger population and offer them assistance. Whether it is connecting them to experts who might be sitting in far away cities or arranging for the delivery of medicines to remote regions, there is much that these NGOs are doing to empower communities today.
- Several NGOs have medical experts on their boards or teams and through them, offering proper training to local healthcare providers. Through steps like these, first aid and the first steps of treatment become much more easily available.
Here is a list of just some of the NGOs that are working towards empowering communities in terms of making them healthier!
- Help Age India: Perhaps one of the most well-known NGOs in the space of healthcare and assistance to the elderly, Help Age India has been working for more than 4 decades to provide services related to health and well being to the old people, who might not have anyone to take care of them. They have a presence in multiple states across India and through their action for community empowerment, they have been able to conduct multiple cataract surgeries, eye surgeries, palliative and end-stage care for cancer patients and much more. With their mobile health units, they are able to reach the remotest corners of the country, offering healthcare to the old and destitute.
- Rural Health Care Foundation: Working since 2009, this NGO aims to offer affordable, yet high quality medical care and assistance to families who come from marginalised sections of the society in West Bengal. They have multiple centres all over the state and 12 of them are in completely remote areas, enabling them to reach close to 23 lakh patients. Their aim is to provide medical care to everyone, because social and financial status should not affect basic human rights.
- Deepalaya : Although Deepalaya is involved in several projects, their community health program works exclusively at creating an awareness about both preventive and promotive health. Through their rural and mobile health clinics, they have been able to reach out to more than 27 lakh children, ensuring timely vaccinations and supplementary nutrition. Via their self-help groups, they have been able to educate locals about family planning and sanitation as well as train local youth to carry on the good work.
- Foundation for Mother and Child Healt: Working predominantly in the city of Mumbai, FMCH aims at educating mothers about basics such as nutrition, sanitation and hygiene and preventive health practices. Their programs are known to affect close to a 100 pregnant as well as nursing mothers, on a yearly basis.
- Swasth Foundation: As the name suggests, this NGO aims to build a healthy nation, by empowering local communities; they have set up several centres across India, where information regarding physical and mental well-being are given out to those who need it. Their network of primary health centres has helped reduce the financial burdens significantly and has allowed people with chronic diseases to get constant care. Since their inception in 2009, they have been able to help more than 1.5 million people.
Give Discover is proud to be associated with all these and many more NGOs that are working towards not only making primary healthcare affordable for those who are socially and financially marginalised, but also making health a right for everyone.