Unfazed by the acute shortage of doctors and poor health indicators, Rajasthan has found a new way to educate and motivate rural masses to adopt best health practices. Health workers in Rajasthan spread awareness on maternal care and child malnutrition through tablets.
The new innovation has hit the pulse of rural Rajasthan with a successful attempt to weed out deep-rooted prejudices that are obvious hindrances in adoption of best health practices in rural society.
Tablets are used by health workers to show short films over a range of health-related topics, including high risk factors, basic precautions to be taken, importance of consulting doctors and other pregnancy-related problems and solutions. Interactive games on different subjects and quizzes are also the integral part of healthcare software in the tablets.
Health worker, auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) and ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) encourage women and adolescent girls to play these games which have questions and answers on nutrition, vaccination, family planning and other topics of maternal and child care and child malnutrition. They get marks for the right answers and they understand things better. The software in tablets has been designed and developed by Unicef.
“The initiative has been successful and results have been beyond our expectations. It’s the actual delivery of healthcare solutions in rural Rajasthan. Awareness campaign through tablets has changed the orthodox mindset of rural society and people have become more receptive. Tablets have helped people to visualise the problem and its solution,” said Neerak K Pawan, Additional Mission Director, National Health Mission.
Before introduction of tablets, ANMs and ASHAs had the traditional methods of creating awareness on maternal care and child malnutrition in rural areas.
The advice by medical practitioners and personal counselling by ANMs and ASHAs had failed to remove deep-rooted prejudices of rural society.
Of late, the tech-savvy measures implemented by the Rajasthan government have led to effective communication with rural masses and better monitoring of maternal and child healthcare. “The idea of using tablets in creating health awareness programmes in rural areas gained prominence some two years ago. A pilot project ‘e-Asha’ was initiated in Barmer district where 25 health workers were jointly trained by Unicef and the health department. Results were outstanding,” said Pawan.
Interestingly, it was the community service initiative in Pali and Jhalawar districts that motivated the government to take up pilot project “e-ASHA” in Barmer.
“When I was the collector in Pali district, a few people approached me to donate some money in healthcare sector. We used this money to provide tablets to health workers, who started using them for health awareness purpose. Similar initiative was taken up in Jhalawar district, which was highly appreciated by the chief minister,” said Pawan.
Later, the government decided to take up the initiative in a planned manner in the entire state following which a pilot project was launched in Barmer, he added.
In the annual budget this year, the government has taken more initiatives to strengthen tech-savvy measures. The state proposes to train all ASHAs in at least one district of each of the seven divisions for data entry on tablets and using them for creating heath awareness on various issues in rural Rajasthan.
“Tablets have been given to health workers in most districts. The main intention of the state government is to implement similar and more tech-savvy measures in every district of the state. Implementing health and family welfare measure and related awareness programmes using new technology will change the health scenario of Rajasthan completely,” said Pawan. The government is also planning to provide android-based mobile phones to all the health workers at 61,000 anganwadi centres. It will help in better monitoring of web-based nutrition application Raj Poshan, he added.
Several social organisations and individual units have extended their support to the government in its measures in healthcare segment.
Many trusts, NGOs and individuals have come forward to provide tablets to the health workers in the tribal districts of Dungarpur, Banswara, Pratapgarh, Rajasamand and Muslim-dominated Tonk district. It's not only the government which is upbeat over the new measures in healthcare and family planning segment but also health workers in Rajasthan have felt the changing perception of rural masses for adopting better healthcare practices.
“Women have been more receptive in understanding the issues on tablets. It doesn’t matter whether a person is illiterate, old or young; tablets have been really helpful to make people understand about the real issues in women and childcare. At ground level, the situation is improving and it is just because mode of communication has changed,” said Saroj Kumari, a health worker in Jaipur.
According to health workers, families in rural Rajasthan, especially women, are never comfortable with the idea of consulting a doctor, admission in a hospital or taking any medical advice. They generally take medical assistance when the condition becomes unbearable.
“Be it the case of pregnancy or malnutrition in children, women in rural areas prefer home remedies instead of consulting the doctors. Despite getting free treatment, free medicine and other incentives under various government schemes, women are not ready to consult a doctor or hospital. It leads to several health-related disorders that affect sex ratio, maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate in Rajasthan” said Saroj.
But content and awareness material on tablets have helped them to understand and visualise their problems and find an effective solution. Many women have started admitting that orthodox perception of their family members can put their life to great risk and medical consultation during pregnancy is mandatory, she added.
Health workers feel that tablets have changed the mode of communication which is more effective than the previous conventional awareness programmes. Upgradation in content and taking tech-savvy measures in other health programmes can bring about a complete change in the overall health scenario in Rajasthan.