December 26th, 2016
Odisha is perhaps one of the most troubled states in the country. A state that is in the news because of its destitute stature that surfaces from its poverty, malnourishment, farmers’ woes, diseases, inadequate healthcare, and naxal activities to name some.
It was in August this year, the story of 45-year-old Dana Majhi, took the Indian media by storm. Unable to bear the expenses for a hearse van, Majhi, a tribal farmer from the remote corner of Kalahandi, carried the dead body of his wife on his shoulder and walked for 10 miles with their sobbing 12-year-old daughter Chandini.
The district of Kalahandi has nature’s gifts in abundance, but it is also one of the most backwards districts in the state, where people are living in utter poverty and dejection. This is a region where people are mostly deprived of education, engulfed in a blanket of superstition, with minimum support of the government, where even telephone signals are a distant dream. To add to their woes, Naxal activities have spread in many parts of the region. Amidst such adversities, 70-year-old Dr Aquinas Edasserry is working relentlessly to give a ray of hope to the locals.
It was Dr Edassery’s inner call that drove her all the way from Bengaluru’s St. John’s Medical College to the remote block of Bhawanipatna in Kalahandi to provide primary healthcare to the locals. She has also been a practitioner in U.K. Here she formed her organisation Swasthya Swaraj, a community health programme that is active in 75 villages from 6 panchayats — Kerpai, Nakrundi, Kaniguma, Gunpur, Sindhipadar and Gopalpur — in Thuamul Rampur block. This programme reaches out to more than 14,000 people providing them with healthcare amenities.
These villages are malaria hubs which is the reason for 70 to 80 percent of the deaths. Scabies in its worst forms, Tuberculosis and Leprosy, are also rampant here. The high number of preventable diseases are because of underlying food scarcity causing malnourishment.
Dr Edassery is trying to make healthcare a reality for the villagers. At places, she has built a team of doctors, paramedics and also 24X7 patient centres where treatment and necessary drugs are provided free of cost or a minimum price. In a place where infant mortality rate is very high, pregnant women, children are getting regular check-ups. Besides, medical camps for tuberculosis, leprosy, eye check-ups are conducted in different locations at regular intervals.
Swasthya Swaraj not only believes in providing health support, but its ultimate goal is to build an empowered community by bringing education and training among all the members of the communities.
They are empowering different sets of people for various tasks. Married women from many villages have been made Swasthya Sathis, who are being trained to provide primary health care in a community. Their work is to diagnose diseases, provide medicines and collect data. The Siksha Sathis comprise of young men who create awareness among people about different diseases and their prevention. They focus on the national control programmes for malaria, tuberculosis and leprosy. These Siksha Sathis also educate the children of the villages through non-formal education, which in turns promotes the message of good health. Through Swasthya Jatra, the organisation supports mass health education programmes in the villages following the tribal culture. These programmes are organised in one or two locations as an annual mega event.
Swasthya Swaraj’s functions with some enormous challenges in their area as the government health system is almost nonfunctional and doctors never come here voluntarily. Besides, the remote location and hilly terrain barely efficient to provide any well-developed communication system. The organisation is the only hope for the thousands living utter depravity.
The Logical Indian appreciates the work Dr Edassery and her organisation for bringing light to the lives of thousands of people.