The goal of ‘health for all’ is still to be achieved even after seven decades of Independence. Thousands of people in remote areas of the country die every year in want of timely medicines. In such a tragic situation, the 14,000 Arogya Mitras have proved to be a boon for the people living in remote areas. They not only provide first aid, but also educate the people how to maintain a healthy lifestyle so that they do not fall sick
It was around 8.00 am on February 28, 2016, Sunday. Mamina Radus (25) was reading Dharitri newspaper sitting in her house. A news shook her completely. The news was about an eight-month pregnant Vanvasi woman, Rajni Munda, who was denied surgery at a district hospital. She was laying unattended there for four days. Doctors reportedly asked for Rs 20,000, which her family was unable to pay. Mamina immediately rushed to the hospital along with four other Arogya Mitra girls. They approached the Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO) and asked for the reason of denying treatment. The CDMO said the lady has tumor in her stomach and needs surgery, which requires medicines and several units of blood. Mamina said they would arrange medicines and blood also, you perform the surgery. They immediately arranged all required medicines and themselves donated four units of blood. During the surgery, a 1.5 kg tumour was removed, but the child of the lady could not be saved as he had died a day before. But somehow her life was saved. The lady belonged to Banspala Vanvasi region.
The five girls who saved the life of an unknown Vanvasi woman were the Arogya Mitras of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad run Charak Health Services in the region. They are affectionately called ‘Charak Didi’. Before Mamina became an Arogya Mitra in 2012, the people of the village had to go about 30 km for taking even paracetamol tablet. But now the complete first aid is available in the village itself.
Pabuni Lata belongs to Kobarkima Village of the same Kandhmal District. She is also an Arogya Mitra. Apart from providing first aid to the people she has started a campaign to ensure toilet in every house and also proper drainage system in the village. There is a government dispensary about 10 km away from her village, but it lacks both doctors and the medicines. Since there is no road, people have no other option but to walk. In such a situation, Pabuni ensures first aid in the village itself. Like Pabuni and Mamina, Odisha has more than 800 Arogya Mitras in the Vanvasi regions alone who work under the supervision of trained doctors. In Odisha East Prant, the scheme has been named after Charak, the principle contributor to the ancient Bharatiya Science of Ayurveda, while in Odisha West Prant, it is run in the name of Sushrut, the ancient Bharatiya Physician.
There is a place known as Bhootbangla in Kokrajhar District of Assam. Two Arogya Mitras go to this place from Guwahati to run an Arogyam, a kind of Bal Sanskar Kendra. One is Anita Deori while other is Vandana. Arogyam is part of the Arogya Mitra scheme, where children are taught about hygine, cleanliness in the surrounding, patriotic songs, sholkas, sports activities, etc. They also tell the child the benefit of Swadeshi. As a result, when the children go to the village shop even to purchase a chocolate they ask whether it is Swadeshi or Videshi. They reject it if it is Videshi, made by any multinational company. The shopkeeper was eager to know the name of the people who taught the children the difference between Swadeshi and Videshi. He was not angry at all but wanted to know after all who impart them such good sanskars in a remote village. One day, both the Arogya Mitra girls reached his shop to purchase something. As they were new in the village, he tried to know their whereabouts. They said they came from Guwahati to meet their friend. He understood the whole story and asked whether they are the same Didi, who teach children about Swadeshi. He was very happy to know positive response from the girls.
The poor condition of health facilities in rural areas can be understood from the fact that 60% of population don’t have access to health services. If there is dispensary in any area, there is no doctor and medicines and everyone cannot bear the high cost of treatment charged by private nursing homes. Therefore, the dream of ensuring ‘health for all’ is still unachieved in seven decades of Independence. In such a situation, the Arogya Mitra Scheme has emerged as a boon for the people living in remote and inaccessible areas. The idea of the scheme basically clicked to Dr Anant Narayan Kulkarni in Thane in 1982 when he was serving the villagers in Jawahar and Mokhada tehsils after getting MBBS degree. But the scheme was formally launched in 1989 by the then RSS Sarsanghachalak Shri Balasaheb Deoras by providing heath boxes to 25 Arogya Rakshaks. In the highly diverse region of North-East, this scheme has helped in saving the lives of lakhs of people who had no option even to get first aid in their remote villages. In North-East region alone, 5,500 Arogya Mitras treat about six lakh people in a year. However, the list of trained Arogya Mitras includes more than 16,000 names but they are not active due to various reasons. They just look after the health needs of their
The young boys and girls mostly belonging to the same village are imparted special training by the Sewa Bharati Purbanchal in Homeopathy and they are provided with medicine boxes containing 76 medicines after completion of their training. Then they provide primary medical aid to the people in their respective villages. Those who are found critically sick are either sent to the big hospitals or are provided medicines after consulting the senior doctors. All the Arogya Mitras work under the supervision of any of the trained doctor. Therefore, there are very little chances of mistake. The service is totally free. Neither the patients pay anything nor the Arogya Mitra is paid any honourarium. They do it as service. They mostly have their separate means of livelihood. Apart from providing regular first aid, they also organise health camps involving senior doctors to treat the people on large scale. Dhanwantari Sewa Yatra conducted every year involving qualified doctors has proved very helpful in this regard.
According to Dr Arun Bannerjee, who has been associated with the scheme in north-eastern states since its inception in 1995, the prime task of the Arogya Mitras is not just to provide first aid, but to generate health awareness to the extent that people do not fall sick. Therefore, there is concentration on cleanliness, hygiene, healthy lifestyle and healthy diet.
RSS Sarkaryavah Shri Bhaiyaji Joshi who has materialised this scheme, repeatedly stresses on training Arogya Mitras in all the remote villages and slums of the cities so that people get first aid without delay. Arogya Bharati deputy organising secretary Shri Ashok Varshneya points out that the Arogya Mitras are working in all states of the country. Apart from Arogya Bharati, Sewa Bharati, VHP, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and many other RSS associated organisations also train Arogya Mitras and depute them in different areas. The Rashtriya Sewa Bharati has now started efforts to mobilise all these efforts at a single platform. It organised a national workshop for Arogya Mitras in Agra from March 19 and 20.
Since the objective of the scheme is to ensure affordable health to all, many experiments are being conducted on different aspect of the scheme. Arogya Bharati in Hyderabad imparts training to school students from 6th to 9th standard as Bal Mitras who then impart training of first aid and health awareness to the students in their classrooms. Then they educate their family members and then the people in the village about staying fit. Through this experiment, thousands of families have been made addiction free, which is not a minor achievement.
The health problems in the remote areas have different aspects. Sometimes people too are not ready to receive aid. The solution to it was found by a Sewa Bharati run hospital in Nellor region of Andhra Pradesh. Since the Vanvasis in seven blocks there were not coming for treatment, the hospital trained some people from those villages as Arogya Mitras. Some of them were even illiterate. The main problem was that even the pregnant women were not ready for delivery in the hospital and the mortality rate of child and mother during delivery was very high. After persuasion by those Arogya Rakshaks, when some of the women started coming to the hospital it was found that the hemoglobin level of some of them was between 3 to 4. They even required blood transfusion before delivery. Another problem was detected. The women who were provided iron and folic acid tablets, they did not take them. Then the Arogya Mitras started educating them about healthy diet, which helped in improving the hemoglobin level. As a result, the mortality rate of mother and child was arrested substantially.
The Arogya Mitras in border areas of Gujarat have done a wonderful job by educating the people not to allow any anti-national activity in their area. Now, if there is any such activity it reaches the people and authorities concerned within a few hours. Dr Vineet Kayath in Alirajpur of Madhya Pradesh has motivated people how to prevent diseases by maintaining hygiene. This has reduced the rate of people falling sick. Amit Pandey lives in Along town of Arunachal Pradesh, but visits the surrounding villages to serve people as Arogya Mitra. He too has focused on cleanliness. MK Sivan at Angamali in Kerala has imparted yoga training to thousands of people. Now he is working on curbing diabetes through yoga. He also imparts training to school students. Similarly, Laxmanan at Attapady Village in Palghat District of Kerala focused on deaddiction. Those who are seriously addicted are admitted in Swami Vivekananda Medical Mission hospital. He has so far successfully addicted 200 people from 25 villages.
Deepankar Biswas who belongs to Raikata Village under Hojai District of Assam, became an Arogya Mitra in 2004. He is now Vibhag convener of the scheme and looks after the work in Naugaon, Morigaon and Karbianglong districts near Nagaland border. When he became an Arogya Mitra there was no health facility in this village. He feels satisfied when he recalls an incident of 2008. “A child in my village had tetanus and the doctors in government hospital had declared that he would not survive as the infection is beyond control. I gave him homeopathy medicine after consulting my senior doctor. He found relief within 24 hours and finally he got completely cured. Now that child study in 9th standard,” says Biswas.
Bobita Baishoy is an Arogya Mitra since 2005. She belongs to Khetri Village of Assam, about 35 km from Guwahati. She played a key role in curbing conversion in the surrounding villages. Apart from providing medicines to the villagers, she also runs Arogyam and some projects for making women self-reliant. Some of the women in the village now earn good money every month.
Even though most of the Arogya Mitras belong to the same village where they work, it took years for them to win the confidence of their fellow villagers. Umawati Kanwar is Arogya Mitra since 2006, but not even a single patent visited her for months. She belongs to Navjang Village under Golaghat. But now she attends about 200 patients in a week. Last year, when some miscreants burnt 14 villages at Nagaland border she went there to treat the victims and also to provide them relief material. She also played a key role in resting peace in the villages. The clashes among different communities in this region are not new, but since the institution of Arogya Mitras is getting stronger, the repeat of such clashes has come down.
Jyotsna Sinha lives in Silchar Town, but visit New Bhagatpur Village for serving the people. Since malaria is a major problem there, she concentrates on building drainage system. She also imparts training of handicrafts to women. The Arogya Mitras in highly remote and bordering Sadia region under Tinsukia District have played a key role in bringing the Maoist influenced people back to mainstream. The expense of an Arogya Mitra training camp there was borne by a local Congress leader whose entire family now propagates this work in the region.
Dr Arun Bannerjee who is backbone of the Arogya Mitra scheme in north-eastern, is now popular as ‘mobile doctor’, as he attends hundreds of patients every day through Arogya Mitras on his mobile phone. He is fully dedicated to the scheme since 1998. Talking to Organiser he points out that about Rs 4,000 are spent on an Arogya Mitra in a year and that expenses are borne by the Sewa Bharati Purbanchal with the help of the society. “The main task of an Arogya Mitra is to educate people about healthy lifestyle and imparting good sanskars to their children,” he says. Another major project run under Arogya Mitra scheme is Kishori Vikas project, which mainly focuses on resolving the problems of adolescent girls. A good team of nationalist and committed youth has been created in north-eastern region through the Arogya Mitra scheme. They have played a key role in generating the feeling of harmony in the entire region. However, many Arogya Mitras had to sacrifice their lives for it. Sometime back an Arogya Mitra in Kokrajhar region was killed by the villagers, because she had opposed the villagers’ decision to brand a woman as a witch,” recalls Dr Bannerjee.
The systemically and dedicatedly the Arogya Mitras are working all over the country and develops a hope that ensuring health for all is not impossible. The major problem why the country could not achieve this objective so far is that the health comes under the jurisdiction of State governments and they have their own agenda and compulsions, while implementing the schemes. The Central government also has its limitations. The success of Arogya Mitra scheme shows that the society too can play a big role at several fronts. The scheme can show better results if the governments extend help to such voluntary efforts.