Exploring health camps and the road towards primary healthcare in India

Dr. Akanksha Mahajan

MBBS Intern, Govt. Medical College Amritsar

From eradicating disastrous menaces like polio to surviving the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t deny how far our country, India, has reached, ever since our independence in terms of healthcare. Numerous initiatives have been launched by the Indian government to enhance the healthcare system, such as the National Health Mission, to ensure the equitable delivery of healthcare services. Additionally, it aims to encourage community participation in healthcare decision-making and service delivery. Another such scheme is Ayushman Bharat, a health insurance system meant to cover secondary and tertiary care hospitalization up to INR 5 lakhs per household annually [1].

Above all, health camps have played a major role in fulfilling the basic healthcare needs of a diverse population in a country like ours during the post-independence era. The idea of “Universal Health Coverage” by the United Nations on December 12, 2012, further emphasized the need for health camps, especially in the primary healthcare sector. However, as we all know, we have very few primary healthcare centres (PHCs) in rural areas, and around 64% of our population is the rural population [2]. As per various studies, of these, approximately 8% lack physicians or other medical professionals, approximately 39% lack laboratory technicians, and around 18% lack chemists [3]. Due to the lack of availability of medical services, people from rural areas are supposed to travel long distances to receive the required medical care, but unfortunately, the entire cost of this process often prevents them from doing so. Health camps can indeed serve as a miraculous solution for such a situation, by making basic healthcare services as well as basic healthcare awareness easily accessible.

So, before commencing to write this article, I tried looking up health camps near my area, which is Amritsar, a small city in the state of Punjab. First of all, I tried to find over Google what health camps have been conducted here so far, and astonishingly, I found really limited data. I got to know about some non-governmental organizations and a few medical student organizations that had done them, but I couldn’t find much information about health camps conducted by the government, in particular. As a student from Government Medical College, Amritsar, I witnessed my college conducting a health camp for underprivileged children, around a year ago, in collaboration with an NGO “Mission Deep” at a local school. The kids were provided counselling on hygiene and sanitation, the importance of safe drinking water, modern-day health lifestyle-related diseases, and preventive measures to avoid contagious diseases. The kids also learned about many health topics and had their health examined. Students from the educational trust received free medical check-ups and medication during the camp. Sanitary pads were distributed to the female students, who were also educated on a variety of menstrual health issues [4].

However, if I am being very honest, I don’t see such health camps being conducted at my place as frequently as they are required, especially by governmental organizations. As someone inclined towards working in the public healthcare sector as a career, I believe such camps should be conducted at least once every month. I would be more than glad if my college did that. But I can’t exactly picture that happening based on everything I got to witness during my internship. I am not even sure if I should be saying this, but somehow, the very system often ends up making me feel quite helpless and frustrated. As I mentioned before the popular Ayushman Bharat scheme by our government providing health insurance covers up to 5 lakh rupees per family and so on, but how far are the people getting benefited? At my place, everything, from gloves to a basic syringe, is supposed to be brought by the patients. Ayushman scheme comes with different packages, and since the patient is supposed to be buying everything, including the minutest of everything, I am not sure how much benefit they can get. When I look at the people around me, not just my co-interns but the residents, and professors, from the lowest to the highest position holders, their desire to work here is simply driven by the very intention to earn.

Many will argue that we don’t have a sufficient workforce, but don’t you think, little by little, drop by drop, we can create an ocean? As an intern, at my place, there are many postings where interns don’t get to have much clinical exposure, for example- in paediatrics, where you aren’t supposed to do anything more than check capillary blood sugar, and the remaining time, you are supposed to be running hither and thither with most of the errands being submitting death files, birth files, fetching tea for the residents, or getting something photocopied, etc., etc. If you have any dedication to learning, you may wish to attend rounds, but you don’t get much time for that in between the rest of your errands that you are allotted. So, what can you do as an intern in a health camp when you feel as ignorant as I do?

I would like to share an example of someone I got to work with during my internship. He’s a general surgery resident at my place, Dr Deep Satiar, who began with his own NGO Khalagor, based in Kolkata, West Bengal during his final year of MBBS. I got to know a really simple yet effective way for us as interns to serve in primary healthcare. His NGO particularly focused on underprivileged kids. He used to conduct basic screening camps to assess the nutrition status of kids, where they used to do basic anthropometry like height, weight, and mid-upper arm circumference and they used to get the undernourished kids under 5 years of age admitted to the local government hospital (the government provides free healthcare services to under 5-year-old children) and at the same time, they used to get the data recorded with local Anganwadi workers. This is a magnificent example of how governmental and non-governmental organizations can work in collaboration along with ensuring the efficient utilization of the entire healthcare workforce.

However, certain issues require immediate attention. Coming to the NGOs and medical student organizations, where my colleagues are quite actively involved, but only to acquire a namesake volunteering experience for their resume. I won’t deny the progress of numerous NGOs over the past few years, but at the same time, don’t you think that we require a system of checks and balances for all these organizations whether they are governmental or non-governmental to prevent all sorts of thefts, frauds, and embezzlements beneath the title called “CHARITY”? Most importantly, I feel that somehow, our very foundation stone is getting hollower with every passing day. As future medical practitioners, our desire to practice medicine can’t be fueled by an ambition to earn. As far as money is concerned, you can earn in any and every profession as long as you are aware of what you are doing. It’s high time for our medical curriculum to inculcate basic values among the medical students. Lastly, as far as the input from the community is concerned, undeniably, the cases of violence against doctors are surging each day, and a scared doctor can’t possibly serve effectively it’s high time to have certain strict laws enforced in our country to protect not just the practitioners but the healthcare system of the country from any sorts of mishappenings.




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