Imagine this: A 6-year old girl living in a village undergoes a serious leg injury. If she is lucky, there will be a public or a community healthcare unit around, if not she will be rushed to the nearest one which could be at least 30 kms away. When she gets to the hospital, she has to wait for hours for the doctor to arrive, if at all that hospital has a doctor. When the doctor arrives, he concludes that the patient needs a surgery but there is no proper medical equipment, an operating theatre or even an anaesthetic. This unfortunate series of events are an everyday reality for people living in rural and remote areas.
Rural healthcare is one of biggest challenges facing us today. With more than 70% of the population living in rural areas, the low level of health facilities are increasing mortality rates due to diseases. According to the Rural Health Statistics 2014-15, there is a shortage of almost 7000 sub-centers, 1267 Primary Health Centers (PHCs) and 309 Community Health Centers (CHCs).
What are the issues?
1) Lack of access to public healthcare: According to a report by the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) around 30% of the rural population needs to travel at least 30 kms to get access to healthcare. Around 3,660 PHCs and CHCs that are present, lack sufficient means like an operation theater or a testing lab to treat patients. This makes the rural folk resort to using expensive services of private healthcare units. Those who cannot afford them, have to succumb to tragedy.
2) Shortage of good doctors:
Rural public health facilities across the country are having a difficult time attracting trained medical professionals. The higher the level of training required for the position, the greater is the need gap. The NRHM report states that 50% of the seats for obstetricians, pediatricians, and gynaecologists in PHCs and CHCs are vacant. Most qualified personnel in the medical community avoid rural postings and opt for urban private hospitals instead. The NHP 2013 report revealed that only 33% of the country’s doctors worked in the rural areas where 70% of the country’s population lives. With a shortage, even with a PHC unit around patients have to wait hours and sometimes even days to receive treatment.
In addition to the shortage of doctors, the system is plagued by poor involvement and participation of those who are employed. There have been several instances of pregnant women being treated by nurses and ward boys, who have very little or no knowledge of handling deliveries. An 8-year old girl in Odisha who had suffered serious burns had to succumb to her injuries as she awaited the absentee doctor of the local health care unit. Such instances have become common and repudiated in most public clinics in rural India due to the absence of employed doctors.
4) Lack of medical supplies:
Villages face a severe lack of medicines and equipment. It was estimated that one-third of the women who undergo surgery lose their lives due to lack of anaesthetic availability. The NRHM report states that 66% of the rural patients don’t even have an access to preventive medicines. Due to lack of availability, the medicines also cost much higher making them unaffordable for many.
Non-profit initiatives that have made a difference:
Rural healthcare has become a topic of concern for many non-profits. NGOs along with CSR initiatives are stepping in with mobile vans and free check-ups to help raise the quality and availability of healthcare in rural areas.
In 2005, Apollo hospitals along with ISRO, Phillips and Dhan Foundation launched DISHA – a distance healthcare advancement project. It is a long-distance healthcare project aimed at providing quality healthcare at affordable costs in the remotest parts of the country. It provides a mobile van with state of the art facilities like ultrasound machine, an X-ray, a defibrillator and an ECG machine along with dedicated doctors and other para-medical staff from Apollo Hospitals.
RAD-AID launched a much-needed outreach program for women in 2012. Asha Jyoti aimed at providing screening and referral for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and osteoporosis to over 7,000 low-income patients over five years in Northern India. The specially designed mobile units would provide preventative mammography and bone densitometry testing, as well as educational programming, bringing vital health services to low-income populations.
Wockhardt Foundation’s pet project aims at starting 1000 mobile health vans to provide free primary healthcare to
25 million Indians living in rural and remote areas. The organisation has 69 vans running throughout the country to provide aid to at least 25,000 patients per van. It is currently raising funds to provide aid to Thal village in the Raigarh district of Maharashtra. If you wish to contribute to this endeavour, you can here.
GEHealthcare and CAMTech India organised a sort of medical marathon last year, bringing together engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, designers and innovators to help find innovative solutions to rural healthcare problems. Some of the innovations that came out of the event were a prototype of a durable and portable oxygen kit for emergencies, Nitro boosters for anaesthetics made with the by-product of fertilizer factories, and different ways to screen children for hearing disabilities in their early years.