Imagine never having the opportunity to receive medical check-ups or treatment. Imagine living in a village with no doctor within reach. Imagine having no real awareness or understanding of basic health, hygiene or nutrition, so you get ill very easily. This is the reality for many of those from Dalit, tribal or other poor and marginalised communities in rural India.
This is why the visit of a doctor and community health workers to a village offering screening, diagnosis and medication is a big event. Every month our Indian colleagues run a medical camp in another village where they have been working through their Telangana Rural Development Programme. The programme is geared to helping women and children who are vulnerable to various forms of exploitation including sex trafficking, bonded labour, gender violence and abuse through the Jogini practice. Many of the women are illiterate and uneducated, which increases their vulnerability to such exploitation, as well as to ill health and disease.
There will normally be at least one doctor, and occasionally other medical professionals, taking part in the medical camp. They are joined by a group of our community health workers (CHWs) based in the area. They help with registering patients, and conducting screening tests. It is also a good opportunity for the health workers to gather together, as normally they will be focused on their own two villages in which they each work.
Welcome in the villages
Screening includes measuring blood pressure and checking weight. Even with these very simple tests, it is possible to identify various health issues. The doctor will see everyone who has a health problem or concern. They are able to prescribe medication or refer patients for further tests, examinations or treatment. Further screening is available for diabetes and for HIV and AIDS.
Patients are charged a nominal amount, and if they cannot afford that they will be seen for free. It is not unusual to have one, two, three or even four hundred people queuing to be seen at the medical camp. Often the village elders will make a point of putting in an appearance and offering a welcome on such an auspicious occasion for the village.
When the day is over, the medical camp packed away and the vehicles have left the village, the work is just beginning. Now the community health worker for that village comes into her own. She will make a point of visiting all those who have been prescribed medication as well as those who have been referred for treatment. The CHW plays a vital role in encouraging patients to take their medication and to attend follow-up appointments. Often she will go with nervous or reluctant patients since they can find it very daunting visiting clinics or hospitals. Some will be dismissed before they can be seen, which is why the presence of our staff member is so important to make sure patients receive the attention they need, whether that is for diagnosis or treatment.
These medical camps can literally save lives. Among the conditions diagnosed there will often be some life-threatening disease or illness, which with treatment can be easily cured. Without the medical camp it may never have been identified.
You can help us take medical camps to more villages, to save more lives, by donating to our Free A Woman fund. Click on the Donate button now.