We have often been told that if we lose money and power in our lives, it can be retrieved but health is something that one needs to tend to, for if health is lost, a person’s capability to work and engage in social activities is also lost. However, the irony is despite everything that we are taught, there are little to no efforts put in healthcare, especially in rural areas. And, in order to fix it and change how the system functions, the former Additional Solicitor General of India and current Member of Parliament, Vivek Tankha has made his mission clear-  To bring quality health care. His mission has started with rural Madhya Pradesh.

The man is working with organisations to take steps to address the infant mortality rate and the serious lack of medical facilities in the rural parts of his constituency. As per reports, in Madhya Pradesh, the infant mortality rate (IMR) is amongst the highest in the country. In rural areas the IMR in 2017-18 is 57 per 1,000 live births, against the national average of 39, and, in urban areas, it is 35 per 1,000, against the national average of 26.

The maternal mortality rate in the state was 221 (in 2012-13), when the national average was 167. As a matter of fact, about 73 percent of Madhya Pradesh lives in rural areas. And here, 339 of 632 posts, around half, for gynaecologists and paediatricians are vacant.

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It all began when the poor condition of Katangi town in southern Madhya Pradesh came to Mr Tankha’s notice. In the dry piece of ground of Katangi, villagers travel for hours to get to the city just to get access to adequate healthcare facilities. And, the ones with low incomes, especially farmers are compelled to seek out medical help at unhygienic makeshift community health centers because of low income. Worsening the situation further, the high fluoride content in the groundwater has had an adverse effect on the health of the people, who often complain of arthritis and dental issues.

It occurred to Mr Tanka that the villagers opt to ignore their health complaints given their distance from the city makes it expensive for them to travel and get their checkups done. Some of the medical centres in Madhya Pradesh are only able to provide primary medical facilities. In the case of major health problems, these individuals have to rely on city hospitals. In case of an emergency like an accident, they are left vulnerable. Travelling to the city for treatment is a task for them since the expenses for travel and medicines are unaffordable.

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To help them, Mr Tankha decided to join hands with Rotary’s Active Hands Are Touching (RAHAT) to provide free medical examination, dental procedures, and surgeries to the areas with limited access to healthcare. The Rotary Club’s flagship public-private partnership-based healthcare initiative launched an annual week-long medical camp in 2010. The initiative is spread across Madhya Pradesh, Vivek’s home state, and has impacted over 4 lakh individuals till date.

One such victim who was exposed to the poor healthcare condition is Charan Lal Yadav. It had perhaps been 20 years since a smile had appeared on Charan Lal Yadav’s face. The 80-year-old from Devgawa hamlet near Katangi town  had been suffering from sore eyes and hearing problems for decades. Since, there wasn’t enough medical facilities in his village, he resorted to home remedies. However, after years of waiting, he met an ENT surgeon at the RAHAT healthcare camp organised by the Rotary Club of Jabalpur at his village last year. He is now hopeful of getting some relief.

It is just one aspect of the work which Vivek is doing. He has undertaken several measures through collaborations with international organisations over the years. In 2010, he organised Rotary World’s first health Mission, RAHAT-1, at Mandla in the state. The camp addressed medical needs of 49, 634 tribal patients, and performed approximately 4,600 surgeries and procedures in a period of seven days.

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Encouraged by the response, the second health mission, RAHAT-II, was launched in Chhindwara district. The camp was flocked by over 72,000 tribal/rural patients, and this time, 1,496 major surgeries, and 4,100 primary surgeries or medical procedures were undertaken by the team.

This soon became a ritual wherein a group of 24 doctors and surgeons, nine volunteers, and four medical assistants would visit small towns and provide medical assistance to the underprivileged for free. Follow-ups were advocated, and the patients were provided with free food and transportation facilities. 

Other than this, in order to empower people with disabilities, Vivek set up the Justice Tankha Memorial Rotary Institute for Special Children in 1997 in Jabalpur. The institution for special children provided educational, cultural, therapeutic, and vocational facilities for children who are hearing impaired, have mental retardation and cerebral palsy, or have autism. The trust has also set up five blood banks in Jabalpur, Chhindwara, Narsinghpur, and Mandla. 

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The deteriorating situation of Rural India be it in terms of  poverty, illiteracy, lack of electricity, water and hygiene has not been hidden from us. Medical camps are essential to provide relief to the economically poorer communities and provide assistance to fight immediate diseases like dengue and chikungunya. It is imperative that these free camps with medical professional complement the government schemes to create a large-scale impact.

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