For that healing touch

NGO

The Institute of Public Health is trying to help the underprivileged by creating awareness on issues related to health and hygiene. The NGO also conducts free eye care and general health camps, writes Pushpa Achanta.

The National Rural Health Mission has been somewhat helpful, although not very successful in reaching out to people because of lack of awareness. But for the urban dweller who cannot afford expensive treatment, there are a few schemes like the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY). Moreover, most people in urban spaces like Bangalore are not even aware of the presence of healthcare centres, some of which are inadequate and understaffed. However the Institute of Public Health (IPH), a Bangalore based non-governmental organisation (NGO), is trying to bridge this gap.

“We aim to educate low-income groups about the basics of health, nutrition and sanitation and also ensure they can access necessary help, especially during an emergency,” says Dr Thriveni B S, a community health specialist with IPH.

“Additionally, our community health assistants monitor diabetes, hypertension, respiratory, renal and cardiac problems as well as geriatric, maternal and child health,” she adds. 

Preliminary survey

In order to bring about a meaningful difference in the lives of economically deprived groups, it is important to understand their existing situation and challenges. So, IPH tried to gather data about diseases which plague residents of Kadugondanahalli (K G Halli) in north-east Bangalore. But when it realised that such data was unavailable, the NGO set out to uncover certain facts. With a population of around 44,000, K G Halli has many daily wage labourers of diverse languages and faiths.

“Beginning in August 2009, we did an action research during which we held discussions with nearly 10,000 families, especially women and youth, to determine social demographics, chronic ailments, expenditure on medical care in Vinobha Nagar, Pillanna Garden and other neighbourhoods. Apart from asthma, liver and heart ailments, we found many persons with high levels of blood sugar and pressure who do not know about the problem or cannot afford its prolonged treatment. There are cases where this has resulted in diabetic foot,” observes Nagina, a community health assistant with IPH.

Thriveni adds, “We realised that lifestyle diseases like diabetes also occur because people have unhealthy and irregular eating habits. But the difference between the high and marginalised groups is that the latter hardly know about the condition or its fallout.

Even if they are aware, monetary issues prevent them from seeking medical intervention or following a diet or exercise regimen.”

Empowering women and youth

Women like Nagina and her co-worker Josephine play a key role in the fulfilment of the NGO’s objectives. Their main tasks include holding discussions with women and youth in every area about the necessity of purifying water before consuming, cleanliness and other precautions that need to be taken for their general well-being. Further, they regularly track and report on the condition of people with specific illnesses as well as the aged, newborns, children, expectant and lactating mothers and the infirm. The NGO employs street theatre, posters, leaflets and a variety of visual aids to convey its message.

“Before I was employed by IPH, I hardly stepped out of my house or spoke to anyone outside my family or immediate neighbourhood. I lacked knowledge about basic medical care and how to seek it. But now, I am able to share crucial information and convince others as well,” reveals Josephine, who is a primary school drop-out.

People like Josephine have certainly gained much more than income from their work. “We knew that we must eat food to survive but were not aware of the significant details about nutrition. Josephine came to our school and talked to us and our teachers about the human body, adolescent and overall health and also trained us in theatre and music.

We also enjoy performing and telling our friends and others about the importance of cleanliness and the risks of substance abuse and child marriage. Many of them agree with the fundamental ideas and are practising. But we must also implement that for ourselves and follow up,” say Mercy R and V Vignesh who study at a government-run Kannada medium school.

Holistic approach

The NGO has also been conducting eye care and general health camps. It has also started to maintain individual health cards with a record of medical history of the individuals they reach out to. It has also established a collection of books for children and adults and introduced a three-month computer course for school drop-outs. It has built water storage tanks in the neighbourhoods where it has intervened. The organisation has also collaborated with BBMP to ensure regular garbage collection. At present, IPH is creating a referral network which will include both government and private physicians in the areas. Dr Thriveni says, “We have approached local doctors some of whom have agreed to join hands with us. However, progress has been slow.”

Also, IPH monitors the proper functioning of BBMP’s urban health centres (for out-patient care) and State government run community health centres (providing in-patient services) which also support its activities. In September, the NGO held public rallies, exhibitions and cultural performances in Bangalore to spread its message.

“Our initiatives have succeeded largely due to the participation of youth and women. We plan to take this programme to other identified parts of Bangalore, in future,” says Thriveni.

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