Tons valley in Uttarakhand has a total population of 22,000 and consists of 37 villages. Seventy per cent of the region is disconnected by road, let alone have internet services.
The locals have to walk a minimum of 10 kilometres to travel outside of their village, and the nearest medical facilities are at Uttarkashi (170 km, 8 hrs by road) or Dehradun (200 km, 7 hours by road). The situation gets worse during monsoons when villages are cut off entirely in the absence of any bridges.
If one brings into the health statistics of the people of the valley, then the picture gets more worrisome. Kalap Trust, an NGO working for the upliftment of the people of Ton, created a health report of the valley according to which around 12 per cent of the villagers have Tuberculosis and 80 per cent of the newborns are delivered either in toilets or fields without an attendant. As seen from the statistics, healthcare is a significant concern in the region.
With an aim to provide primary and affordable medical services, the NGO, founded by Anand Sankar, established the valley’s first-ever community health centre in October last year.
Kalap was formally registered in 2014 after Anand quit journalism to create livelihood opportunities and make education and healthcare accessible to people. Read more about Anand’s story here.
Speaking to The Better India (TBI), Anand says:
The Tons valley is completely cut off from the rest of India so much so that some of the villagers, till date, use the barter system. Insufficient communication with the outside world has made access to healthcare services time and resource intensive, leading to chronic neglect. We aim to generate enough awareness to make every village healthy.
An old building in the Kotgaon village of the Tons valley was renovated and transformed into the health centre in 2018. Anand raised around Rs 20 lakh via crowdsourcing to fund the construction activity and procure necessary medical equipment.
He hired two doctors and nurses who cater to 20-30 people every day. The salaries of the staff are being paid by the Tata Trust from October 2018 to July 2019. Anand is currently working on raising funds through crowdsourcing to keep the momentum going.
From oxygen cylinders, nebulisation, basic diagnostic facilities like blood testing kits, ECG tests, trauma care to urine analysis, the centre offers several medical services on all seven days of the week.
The centre charges Rs 25 for first-time registration and gives a unique identity number to every patient, “Just like every hospital, we maintain a medical data management system that records the patient’s health history.”
There is no consultation fees for children below 14, pregnant women and elderly, whereas the rest of the villagers are charged Rs 20.
Kalap has also tied up with a local pharmacy to provide medicines at subsidised rates. Besides making the medicines cheap, the collaboration is a step to prevent the non-qualified medical shop owners from selling medicines to the locals without prescriptions. As per Anand, more than medical negligence, consuming wrong pills have led to people’s deaths.
Anand also invites senior medical experts regularly to hold health camps in Tons valley on a pro-bono basis.
We give a door-step delivery treatment to the villagers by organising camps twice a week as not all pregnant women, and elderly can walk up to the centre, thanks to the lack of road connectivity, says Anand.
Realising that just two doctors and nurses are not sufficient for the people, a team of eight certified first responders have been formed and placed in villages. Locals and NGO volunteers were trained at the Rural Development Institute – Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust.
They are paid a monthly stipend of Rs 5,000 and every time they offer a medical service; they can charge Rs 20 from the patient.
It has been almost nine months since the centre was launched and a gradual change concerning awareness and the need to get a health checkup regularly has been witnessed in the valley.
For instance, in December last year, a bear attacked a shepherd and villagers brought him to the health centre.
Animal attacks are frequent in the region; however, this time, the patient was able to get prompt treatment and compensation for the same.
The shepherd was grazing his sheep right below our hospital when a bear attacked him. The bear managed to take a swipe at his leg and buttock while he was trying to run away. The report made by our doctor mentioning an animal attack proved valuable for the shepherd as he used it to apply for compensation from the state Forest Department, narrates Anand.
In another incident, a 20-year-old pregnant woman was diagnosed with anaemia due to her poor diet and working in the fields had worsened her health condition further.
Weeks away from delivery, there was not enough time to replenish her blood count through oral supplements, so our doctors went for IV infusion of iron. We are now monitoring the patient, and she is doing well, says Anand.
Anand hopes to expand his reach, but more than this, his concern is to run the health centre.
“Since ours is not-for-profit model, we need funds to continue our services. We have started a crowdfunding campaign again and are looking for organisations who are willing to invest,” signs of Anand.
You can help the locals in Tons valley get better medicare here.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)