Dr Ganesh Babu, medical officer at a PHC in Chhattisgarh, is using mobile phones as an incentive for pregnant village women to access timely healthcare.
When Dr Ganesh Babu took over as the medical officer at the Barsur Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh five years ago, he was surprised by the low number of women delivering their babies at the centre.
When asked, women cited a lack of access to nearby facilities, bad roads, and no bridge to cross the river as some of the reasons. As a result, they would have to deliver at home.
“Our PHC caters to patients from more than 20 villages. Barsur is located in Dantewada district, which is a tribal area. Public transport is very less and not available after 6 pm in most areas. People have to come by foot. The district hospital is almost 35 km away, which makes it very difficult for people to go there,” Dr Ganesh explains.
“Therefore, they are dependent on our centre. There are some villages which are almost 20 km away from our centre and some that are on the other side of the Indravati River. It’s really tough for people to come here from the other side,” he adds.
Dr Ganesh relied on an atypical solution to try and close this gap — mobile phones. To maintain a constant stream of communication with women in far flung villages in case of emergencies, the medical officer began giving them mobile phones, which he brought from his own pocket.
He says it worked like a charm.
“From just seven or eight deliveries per month till three years ago, the PHC today caters to an average of 25-30 deliveries per month. In April 2022, we saw 40 deliveries,” Dr Ganesh tells The Better India.
Mobile wale doctor
According to a study titled ‘Maternal Delivery at Home: Issues in India’, women who own mobile phones and use SMS delivered at home less often.
The study states that, “Electronic empowerment, in terms of usage of mobile phones and SMS facility, increased the awareness of women regarding various healthcare issues and thereby contributed to their further sensitisation. By using mobile phones, women living in rural India were able to stay in contact with healthcare workers such as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and received important updates, thereby helping them to seek proper delivery care.”
Relying on this fact, Dr Ganesh incentivises women living in very remote areas by giving them mobile phones. He is popularly known as “mobile wale doctor” and has given phones to more than 100 women so far.
“By using the phone, they are able to keep in touch with the mitanins (health care workers) and inform us if they are feeling unwell. We, in turn, can inform them about immunisations once the child is born. I give them basic phones which cost Rs 1,000, and give Rs 500 to the women who accompany the pregnant lady,” says the 59-year-old.
The phones also help the PHC staff stay in touch with the mitanins on ground, as well as the pregnant women themselves. “Our staff can remain in constant contact with the women, even at night, to address doubts or queries. In case of an emergency, we send an ambulance,” adds Dr Ganesh Babu.
Another thing that has helped increase the number of institutional deliveries is the presence of a pre-birth room at the PHC, says the medical officer.
“A pre-birth room was set up in the PHC by the government. In this facility, we encourage pregnant women who stay in very remote locations to come to the centre three-four days before delivery. Food and care is provided to them and their family members till they are discharged. This also helps in preventing home births,” says Dr Ganesh.
A pivotal transformation
Meanwhile, it’s not just mortality that becomes an issue for home births.
“While some mothers die due to excessive bleeding in such home births, many have lifelong problems like chronic anaemia due to the bleeding. My idea is to avoid that and help mothers with a good, healthy life,” says Dr Ganesh.
Staff at the PHC say that the centre has seen a lot of development under his tenure.
He sleeps at the hospital itself to attend to emergencies.
“Earlier, emergency cases would be referred to Dantewada district hospital, which is very far from here. After Dr Ganesh came here, the number of patients in OPD and IPD has improved tremendously. We see almost 80-90 outpatients daily. He is present at the hospital 24 hours and even sleeps here itself. He did not take the quarters given to doctors. He sleeps in a room at the centre and attends to patients even at night,” says Ajay Sarkar, a staff at Barsur PHC.
Working closely with the mitanins has also borne fruit, Sarkar opines.
“Many people stay on the other side of the Indravati River. There was no bridge till this year. They would have to cross the river using a country boat. People staying there didn’t take interest in visiting the hospital even for deliveries. Dr Ganesh coordinated with the mitanins and ensured that everyone visits the hospital for check-ups and deliveries,” adds Sarkar.
Meanwhile, Dr Ganesh doctor is now working with local authorities towards making the PHC a 24*7 one.
“Although there is a 24 hour PHC, it is almost 25 kms from here. We need to cater to patients in emergency situations. It’s not just an accident which is an emergency. For a parent, a child having fever is also an emergency. We are working towards making this facility bigger, and it will hopefully get converted into a Community Health Centre (CHC) in a few years,” he says.
Edited by Divya Sethu, Images Courtesy Dr Ganesh Babu