Nagesh, a daily wage labourer, had no work one day. On the same day, a free health camp was conducted in the neighbourhood. Not one to get his vitals tested on a regular basis, he decided to go to the camp as he had no other work that day. His blood sugar level was close to 400 mg/dL (normal sugar level is less than 140mg/dL), and Nagesh wasn’t aware that he was a diabetic.
Nagesh’s isn’t a lone case. Many people get to know about their medical conditions only through such health camps. In rural areas and for low-income groups in urban areas, free health camps often are the first point of medical consultations.
“Many aren’t aware of Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs), and those who know don’t go there because of the distance. People shy away from going to private clinics due to the cost factor,” says a volunteer at an NGO which organises free health camps.
However, Covid-19 impacted such health camps from being conducted as well. “People generally tend to ignore symptoms, which will only worsen the condition. So, the main aim of conducting health camps is to screen people for any disease, and then refer them to hospitals for proper treatment,” says Dr Kavan Deshpande, a paediatric intensivist based in Dharwad.
Dr Soumya Nanaiah, an ophthalmologist based in Kodagu, has seen advanced cataract cases of late. “This is basically due to delayed consultation on account of Covid. Had they been aware of the condition earlier, the treatment could have been easier,” she says.
According to Dr Soumya, screening camps are beneficial when people cannot express their discomfort or there are no symptoms in the early stage of any condition.
These camps screen patients for a wide range of health conditions, most commonly for blood pressure, diabetes and cardiac issues. Specialised camps also handle neurological, ophthalmological, ENT and cancer cases among others.
“Early screening is crucial for certain types of cancers such as liver, stomach and ovary cancer as they aggravate in a matter of six to eight months. But early stages are painless and people hesitate to get screened for cancer due to the fear associated with the disease,” says Dr Umesh Hallikere, an oncopathologist based in Hubballi.
Dr Umesh says they have observed advanced cancer cases in their camps that are being conducted after a gap of eight months.
While health camps are beneficial for early screening and generating awareness, doctors feel that when the prevalent healthcare system isn’t functioning well, such camps fall short of meeting its objectives.
“If people on being diagnosed don’t go to hospitals for treatment, or there is no follow-up, then there is no point in having these camps,” says Dr Soumya.
According to public health expert Dr Sylvia Karpagam, the fact that health camps are conducted itself shows that there is a gap in the healthcare system.
“When people cannot access the PHCs, they attend these camps. Often these health camps are conducted by civil society and their reach is limited due to limited funds and resources,” she says.
Doctors feel that Covid-19 highlighted the inadequacy of our healthcare system. While PHCs were converted to fever clinics, no arrangements were made to treat chronic health conditions.
“We are bound to see a spike in HIV AIDS, comorbidity conditions, antibody resistance as there was a break in medication,” Dr Sylvia says.